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.
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 exposé. 

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.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Book 155: Trauma Room Two by Philip Allen Green

Trauma Room Two was a simple, beautiful set of short stories written by an emergency room physician, Philip Allen Green. I loved this book and felt it was exactly what I needed to get back on track. It had its own momentum and was emotionally provocative. I cried at least twice while reading this book.

I'm no doctor, but it seems to me that Dr. Green captured something special in this book: he showed compassion fatigue in its most elemental form. Those of us who work in offices and retail stores can never appreciate the strength of character required to maintain a compassionate nature when faced with humanity's raw reality day in and day out. I simply cannot imagine how much emotional scar tissue one must build to withstand such pressure and come out okay. No wonder spirits falter and maintaining compassion becomes difficult.

There are two stories that struck me as particularly memorable in this book because their outcomes were completely different than what I expected. One dealt with an addict, the other a homeless man. I'm still trying to digest both of those stories.

This little book was one I will remember for a long time. Pick it up - you won't regret it.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Reflections on Reading, Identity, Career, and Achievement

When I first began this blog, I would read whatever I could get my hands on in time to accomplish my goal of one book a week for that first year. As a result, I read a lot of really terrible books. But that year was not spent in vain; I also read a lot of really good books that I enjoyed and seemed to all fit into similar genres. Eventually I realized that I kept returning to the same sections in Barnes & Noble - the social and behavioral sciences. I visited similar sections in the library - history, medicine, anthropology, biographies, self-help books. So I decided to began exploring these topics even further. 

Flash forward to 2013, when I had to choose a major to finish up my bachelor's degree. Of all of the programs offered at Thomas Edison State University, one topic piqued my interest: organizational leadership. The courses would be applicable to all different career fields, including my own: a nonprofit director. Then, just one month after beginning my classes, I was laid off. Thanks to the fantastic professional network I built while working for the nonprofit, I landed a job immediately and didn't miss a day of work or a paycheck. And I continued to work on my degree. 

It turned out that the science of leadership was a fascinating one. Not every class was easy (MATH REQUIRED) but I felt good about the major I had chosen. Of course, there were many theoretical courses, but others told the stories of previous leaders who had been instrumental in changing the course of business and in some cases, the course of history. In the end, my studies made me even more interested in history, sociology, and anthropology. I earned my Bachelor's Degree in Organizational Leadership in March 2016. 

Before I even finished my bachelor's degree, I decided that I wanted to join the top 12% of Delaware's population by pursuing my master's degree. I enrolled at Wilmington University for my Master of Science in Management and began accelerated classes as soon as I could. (I work for a hospital system in Delaware, so it made sense.) Once again, the study of sociology and anthropology came into play. A great deal of the work required for the degree focused on public health problems, medical ethics, the Affordable Care Act, medicinal marijuana, and economics. I did my thesis on the issues of mental health and substance abuse and recommended the clubhouse model as a solution that could be implemented nearby the hospital where I work. I finished the coursework for my master's degree in June of this year and received word just a few days ago that my degree was conferred.

Books have been part of my personal development for many years, but it was only in the past few that I realized how important a role they continue to play in my professional development. I've read books that have given me clues about how to move forward in different aspects of my life and career. I've read books that have made me more sympathetic to the plight of those less fortunate than me. I've read books that have taught me about the brain and its inner workings and why I am the way I am and why you are the way you are. The path that was set before me as a child has been forever altered because of reading.
I urge you to make reading a priority in your life, if for no other reason than because it has done so much for me.  

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Book 154: The Parent's Tao Te Ching by William Martin

This poetic little book was a reminder to go back to basics with my children. The Parent's Tao Te Ching is not poetry as much as it is simple language and an interpretation of ancient lessons for the benefit of parents around the world. William Martin, a clergyman and counselor, took lessons from the ancient Tao Te Ching and put them into modern verse that parents can both understand and put to immediate good use.

Many lessons in the book were profound for me. Most dealt with befriending solitude, maintaining balance, and reducing the noise and distractions of everyday life so that kids can, quite simply, become who they were going to become in the first place. Parents who seek to control every aspect of their children's lives will fail; the Tao Te Ching tells us to set a good example for our children, help them appreciate simple things, provide for their safety, then let them go.

In particular, the verse below resonated with me, not because I am guilty of it, but because I know quite a few parents that stake their life's happiness on keeping their children busy and happy and run the risk of being empty vessels when their children are grown. I felt I should share it.

44. Find Your Own Meaning

If you look to your children to find meaning in your life, your life will be meaningless. If you need them to be successful to feel successful yourself, you will always fail. 

Your children were not born to complete your life. They were born to complete their own. When you look inside and discover that you have everything you need, you will find your freedom.

As long as you perceive that your life lacks something you are in danger of using your children to satisfy that lack. This is far too great a burden for them to bear. Are you looking to them when you need to be looking to yourself?

If you're a parent feeling out of balance, you may benefit from this book.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Hitting a slump.

So, I've hit a slump. Not with reading, but with book selections.

Remember my rule about not reading a book that doesn't hook me three chapters in? Well I've used that rule about six times during the month of August alone, which means I've read the first two or three chapters of at least six books that have been duds.

I'm not lacking readily available options. I requested about 16 books from the Delaware library system and wouldn't you know? They came in all at once, and all except for one are at least 300 pages. I also bought a few used books from the Smyrna Public Library's book sale room (10 cents each!). So my trunk is full of books, and it's just a matter of finding something I can sink my teeth into and finish in just a few days.

I've got my fingers crossed that the next book I pick up will rock my world.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Book 153: The Whistler by John Grisham - Audiobook read by Cassandra Campbell

The Whistler was a loan from my coworker Sherry who keeps me stocked with audiobooks she buys and shares with her mom and people in our office. (I can't keep up with her!) I listened to this awhile ago but wanted to make sure it appeared on my blog.

True to form, Grisham applied his legal expertise to this novel to bring it to life. I always learn something when I read his novels, and in this case it was about judicial review, jurisdictions, Indian reservation law, and forensics. Pretty interesting stuff, if you ask me.

For the most part, The Whistler kept my attention, although it got a little slow toward the middle. Just as he was losing me, Grisham whipped up a new twist that kept me going through the end. Still, I wasn't sold on every part of the book; there were elements that I as a mother did not find convincing.

Like many of the books I read and review on this blog, I don't want to tell you so much you don't need to read (or listen to) the book yourself. Instead, I'll just say that the characters were bold and interesting, the story line was good, and the author kept me guessing until the end.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book 152: Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour, Ph.D (Audiobook)

This review is dedicated to my daughter, Katelyn, who is presently 11 years old.

I listened to this audiobook, read by the author Dr. Lisa Damour. My daughter will be 12 years old in no time at all, and seems to be developing at an accelerated pace. Or maybe it's because I can remember the day she was born and how I felt as I held her newborn eight pound, eight ounce body in my arms.

When I picked up this audiobook at the library, I hoped to learn how I could be my daughter's strongest supporter as she grows into a young woman. I was pleasantly surprised; not only was the book a fantastic guide for me as a mother, I also learned a great deal about myself and my tumultuous teenage years.

Dr. Damour drew upon her substantial experience as a counselor for teenage girls to write about what she calls the seven stages of a girl's development. She used a number of real life scenarios to illustrate how girls take on challenges, interact with their friends, slowly detach themselves from their parents, and begin to strike out on their own.

Shortly after I finished this book, my daughter displayed some of the behavior Dr. Damour discussed in the first transition. I felt reassured that my daughter's behavior was completely normal, and all I needed to give her was some space and respect. It worked, and it was no big deal. It was an immediate validation of Dr. Damour's advice.

I loved this book through and through and felt serious regret that Dr. Damour hadn't published it earlier. My parents could have used her advice.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Book 151: The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny

This book is not just a book. It is documentation of a humanitarian effort carried out to preserve the stories of those who would otherwise be forgotten to history.

The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic chronicles the discovery and examination of hundreds of pieces of luggage - suitcases, trunks, doctor's bags - found in the attic of Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane in Seneca, New York, long after its closure. This luggage contained thousands of personal items from patients admitted for treatment at Willard. Some patients moved on; others died within the hospital's walls.

The authors opened each bag, photographing and cataloging each personal item and piecing together patients' stories long after their deaths. Some patients kept journals, others wrote letters to their families and friends and kept copies - these items were invaluable as the authors connected the dots. Other patients' stories were more mysterious, lacking details, but intriguing nonetheless. The authors scoured Willard's medical charts to learn about patients' pathology and fill in the blanks. Many patients profiled within this book were institutionalized in the prime of their lives due to traumatic experiences and lived out the rest of their lives in a veritable prison. One was hospitalized due to changes in behavior resulting from a traumatic brain injury that was never diagnosed. Some were immigrants who would never see their families again. Through patients' stories, the authors also chronicled the development of twentieth century mental health diagnosis and treatment; this in and of itself is terrifying.

Something about this book that will remain with me long after I've set it down: the authors did not care that their subjects were ostracized from society and demonized by their contemporaries. They unearthed patient stories and documented their lives with dignity, focusing on their experiences before hospitalization instead of the pathology that brought them to Willard. These were human beings who fought, loved, cried, struggled, and tried to overcome their own maladies, just like you and me. These were people with talents and desires and emotions. I loved how respectfully the authors wrote. I would have given anything to work on this project.

Don't expect a flowery narrative if you pick this up, but do expect to change the way you see people with mental health issues forever.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Book 150: Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson

Tears We Cannot Stop was a difficult book for me to read, and not because the language was particularly challenging. No, this was emotionally difficult. After all, the author Michael Eric Dyson directed this book at me - the white American. And it made me squirm.

This book, written as a sermon to white America, intimately acquaints its readers to the plight of African-Americans, both historic and current. Within this book, Dyson offered his unique, intimate perspective on issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement, civil rights, the N-word, cop violence against blacks, white privilege, and both our former and present American presidents. I was stunned at Dyson's honesty and willingness to attack these controversial issues with such straightforward tact.

Tears We Cannot Stop hit me in most of the ways the author intended. Dyson's accusations were delivered eloquently and with a dash of pity. No one wants to hear they have - for their entire lives - been responsible for perpetuating racism and misery, but Dyson made it an undeniable truth. I felt discomfort, shame, horror, sadness, and anger. Still, no matter how uncomfortable this book made me, I know it was good for me to read what Dyson had to say.

After his poetic evisceration, Dyson didn't leave it up to his white readers to figure out what to do next. He prescribed ways that white Americans can improve race relations simply by changing their own behavior. He even provided book recommendations for those who want to learn more about the hidden history of black Americans. At least one of those recommendations will make its way onto this blog at a later date.

I would definitely recommend this book. Some will not be able to read this book cover to cover, but you should try.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book 149: Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach

My bestie, Liz, is responsible for introducing me to the witty and wonderful Mary Roach, an author I truly admire.

Although Grunt meandered a little more than some of Roach's other books, it definitely kept my attention. More than a few times, it made me appreciate how courageous writers need to be to get the full story, no matter what. To complete this book, Roach had to ask seasoned military professionals embarrassing questions, and got the skinny on every topic from perspiration to shark repellent to in-combat diarrhea. The result is a book that is both fascinating and disturbing, which made me appreciate my Air Force brother more than ever.

I remember when I had the opportunity to be an Honorary Commander for the Dover Air Force Base. I also remember being the least experienced when it came to... well... anything that had to do with the military. I asked a lot of stupid questions but I got a lot of straight answers, even if they came with the occasional sideways glance. I could relate to many of Roach's stories because of this experience.

Our nearby Dover Air Force Base and its Mortuary Affairs is profiled in this book, as well as a fairly accurate description of the town surrounding it.

I enjoyed this book and hope you'll pick it up. Don't skip the footnotes... they're the best part!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Book 148: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

I'm still not completely sure how this wound up on my Amazon wishlist, but I'm so happy it did. This was a fascinating book that answered many of the questions I've always had about end of life processes.

Caitlin Doughty spent a year as an assistant at a crematory and learned to perform many of the behind-the-scene functions that funeral directors don't talk about. Her experience at the crematorium led her to pursue a career in providing dignified death arrangements. She shares intimate details of her early life that shaped her adult life and ease with death. Her book, written over the course of six years, was respectful, deep, and sometimes downright funny.

In this book Doughty reveals secrets of the mortuary profession and describes the history behind the adoption of many of today's funeral standards. Some were established out of scientific necessity; others are utterly pointless. She carefully distinguishes between the two and backs up her claims with plenty of evidence. She also discusses the human need for closure and how modern perceptions of death stand in the way of our own ability to appreciate death.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory was an excellent book, one I'm glad I purchased so that I can read it again and again. I would highly recommend it.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Book 147: Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence - and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene M. Pepperberg

I have a parrot named Kiwi. He is a Caique, which is a kind of small parrot, about the size of a large robin and a bit chubbier, with thicker feet. This predisposes me to enjoy reading about other people's parrots and biases my opinion somewhat. I thought I'd just get that out there so you know where I'm coming from.

The story of Alex and Irene is a wonderful one that many pet owners will certainly love. Irene, a chemist, found her love of birds very early on in life. She decided to explore the linguistic abilities and mental faculties of the African Grey parrot, and wound up working with the one and only Alex. Irene jumped from university to university and subsisted on grants and funds from The Alex Foundation to pursue her dream of showing that birds do indeed have the capacity for complex language and thoughts.

This is Kiwi.
The story of Alex and Irene was genuine and honest. I enjoyed learning about Alex's abilities, and it encouraged me to spend more time training my own parrot to the extent that he can be trained. (He's nowhere near as smart or capable as Alex, but he can do a lot, and mostly, he just eats and snuggles and yells at everyone.)

Pick this up if you want a heartwarming tale which also shows that staying focused on your own life's work can get you through any kind of difficulty.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Book 146: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco

Alyssa Mastromonaco has written a funny, intimate account of her time working in American politics. In different capacities, she supported both John Kerry and Barack Obama in their presidential campaigns and later, served as deputy chief of staff at the White House for the Obama Administration.

Although she touches on her prior positions, the author focuses on the ten years she spent working first for Senator Obama, then for presidential candidate Obama, president-elect Obama and finally, for President Obama himself. I loved her stories and perspective on the inner workings of the White House and her interactions with POTUS and other high ranking politicians and diplomats.

Although Mastromonaco could be quite self-deprecating at times, she used those stories to relay the values that allowed her to flourish: work hard, plan ahead, be kind to everyone, don't let your gender dictate your path, be yourself, ask questions, follow your intuition.

I fully enjoyed this book and thought it could be easily incorporated as required reading for any political science course; it offers a real-life perspective on what it takes to succeed in the wild and crazy world that is American politics.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Today, August 9, is Book Lovers Day!

It's official... there's a day for everything!

Yes, Book Lovers Day is today, August 9th. We should celebrate this as a national holiday and give everyone a day off to catch up on their reading. Well, I think so, anyway.

In 2013, the Huffington Post reported that 32 million American adults - about 14 percent of the population - cannot read. About 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a fifth grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can't read. Books and adult literacy programs are so accessible in today's America, which is why these statistics make me so sad and angry. Reading is a skill that can be acquired and cultivated at any point during your lifetime. It is a pathway to personal development, employment, better wages, higher education, and more. How many would-be geniuses might be lost because they simply did not take advantage of the gift of literacy?

For me, Book Lovers Day is reminder that the ability to read is a privilege. Being able to read is like having an all access pass at a concert or a hotel upgrade; not using it for all its worth is a waste. 

Someone who doesn't read isn't going to read this blog. But you, dear reader, may know someone who has given up on their own literacy and could use a helping hand or a swift kick in the ass (depending on your relationship) to get on track. In that case, here are some suggestions on things you could tell them:
  • Don't read books that don't interest you. Use this rule: if it doesn't hook you in the first two or three chapters, move on. Don't feel as if you failed at something; it's like trying a sample at a grocery store and deciding it's just not for you. Pick up something else.
  • A newspaper or magazine can be practice when you're trying to get started. Make a goal to read the entire article from beginning to end, even if your attention is diverted by shiny, smelly ads. 
  • Get a library card. It's free and gives you access to thousands of different reading resources and literacy programs. 
  • Ask your librarian for suggestions based on stuff you like. Trust me, if you have an interest in something, someone has published a book on it. For this reason, there are such things as NASCAR romance novels. Yes, I'm serious. 
  • Switch up your genre and try something new. I tend to like sociology and horror books (the truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction, but sometimes fiction is just as good) so I have to push myself to try something new. 
  • Don't give up easily. Reading is hard for many people. The more you do it, the easier it gets, and even then, it isn't always easy.
  • When in doubt, ask a trusted friend for help. 
Literacy is a privilege that I refuse to waste. I encourage you to take advantage of this privilege while you still can.

Happy Book Lovers Day!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Book 145: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I read this with the Smyrna Public Library Book Club, which you may remember me mentioning several times (I have a lot of hometown pride).

Okay, onto the review.

I did not love this book. I felt it was just okay. I understand the author's intent - to tell stories from a number of perspectives and tie things up neatly toward the end - but I just didn't think the connections between the different perspectives were strong enough. In fact, some of them were so vague that I missed them completely until one of my brilliant book club members happened to point them out. Even as we discussed these connections, none of us could be absolutely sure of what each meant. With that being said, if the author intended to confuse all of us to death, she did her job well.

Although it wasn't my favorite, I'm glad I read this book because there was so much buzz about it. I also liked that the bad guy got what was coming to him in the end.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Racking My Brain

Artwork by Marion Fayolle

I wish I had begun this blog (or even just a reading journal) twenty years ago. Who knows how many books I've read and forgotten since high school? Sigh.

Here are some that I can remember (not in order) and a short blurb on what I can remember of them.
  1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis --- The best fantasy books around. Loved them.
  2. 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King --- Okay. I still don't understand the apostrophe in the title.
  3. I Know this Much is True by Wally Lamb --- Extremely well written, but graphic. 
  4. Timeline by Michael Crichton --- Made me believe I understood quantum physics.
  5. Cell by Stephen King --- Long, seemed to go nowhere.
  6. Congo by Michael Crichton --- I'll never look at gorillas the same way again. 
  7. Cujo by Stephen King --- Utterly terrifying and the reason I always have food and water in my car. (Ten times scarier when you're a parent.)
  8. She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb --- Fantastic book.
  9. Gerald's Game by Stephen King --- No bondage for me in the wilderness for me, thanks.
  10. Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore --- Funny. I want to read it again.
  11. The Green Mile by Stephen King --- Fantastic. I've read it a few times.
  12. Rose Madder by Stephen King --- Memorable because it was disturbing.
  13. The Shining by Stephen King --- So much better than the movie.
  14. Stranger than Fiction: True Stories by Chuck Palahniuk --- Got a weak stomach? Skip this.
  15. Christine by Stephen King --- Meh.
  16. Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King --- Loved it, but don't remember the plot.
  17. Pet Sematary by Stephen King --- Good and scary. And gross. So gross.
  18. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris --- Grisly but fun.
  19. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton --- Pretty much what you expect, with more gore.
  20. The Lost World by Michael Crichton --- Not memorable.
  21. Private Parts by Howard Stern --- I love you, Howard, but you should have worked with a better editor.
  22. Harry Potter (All books) by J.K. Rowling --- I loved each and every one. 
  23. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore --- Hilarious and completely inappropriate for my mother. 
  24. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens --- Not bad for required reading.
  25. The Adventures of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens --- It made me sad. 
  26. Letters from the Earth by Mark Twain --- Surprising. Naughty.
  27. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown --- Fun, but completely screwed up my perception of history.
  28. Dreamcatcher by Stephen King --- The movie was better than the book. 
  29. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck --- It broke my heart.
  30. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne --- Odd, but held my attention.
  31. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden --- Very good. 
  32. Wicked by Gregory Maguire --- Waste of time.
  33. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey --- Disturbing on so many levels. 
  34. The Shack by William P. Young --- Just bad. Really bad.
  35. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides --- Amazing, intimate book. Helped me better understand LGBTQ issues.
  36. The Stand by Stephen King --- Couldn't finish it. Too complex. Hallucinogens and/or cocaine may be required for full absorption... I'll never know. 
  37. Needful Things by Stephen King --- Fun, crazy.
  38. Bag of Bones by Stephen King --- Couldn't tell you what it was about, but I remember liking it. 
  39. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King --- Endearing. 
  40. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie --- What language was this translated from? Martian? I couldn't get through it.
  41. Star Trek Memories by William Shatner --- As a Trekkie, I found this hilarious. (Some of it was discredited by Star Trek cast members including my beloved George Takei.)
  42. Shannara Series by Terry Brooks --- I read the whole series in high school. The demon Reaper from The Elfstones of Shannara still turns up in my nightmares.
  43. Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe by George Elliot --- Required reading. Pure torture.
  44. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis --- Letters written to and fro do not a novel make. I don't care what you say, Aneesh Khushman.
  45. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand --- Overrated garbage.
  46. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck --- It wrecked me. I loved it. I'd read it again in a heartbeat.
I'm sure there are more that I'm missing, and they'll come to me in time, or they won't. So it goes. 

Kids, listen to your parents and make notes about the books you read. Start now. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book 144: 1984 by George Orwell

Most people read this book in high school, but not me. I'm not sure why.

1984 is a novel that provides a view of the human experience in extreme circumstances. Certain aspects of this book seem eerily prophetic and deal with government dictatorships, censorship, surveillance, and tactics of coercion and intimidation. Really, these things are nothing new to the human race. We've witnessed it or had a taste of it in some way or another, and it scares the hell out of most of us.

Imagine a society where you're never alone but you're always alone. Big Brother is always watching you through a telescreen in your living room or bedroom, with an open channel. The telescreen is always on, and can detect the smallest variations in body language. Many books are outlawed, and those that do exist are censored. Even thinking the wrong way is illegal, and those that are caught are tortured and even killed. History is changed to be what the government needs it to be from one moment to the other, and nothing exists except the present state of things.

George Orwell put a lot of work into this book. For all intents and purposes, he designed a society from soup to nuts and dropped Winston and Julia and the other characters directly into the middle of it. I was both amazed and aggravated at the level of detail he provided, especially when it came to describing the history of the Party... sometimes it just got to be too much.

I certainly understand why this book is a classic and I'm glad I read it, but I probably won't pick it up again. Once was quite enough.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Book 143: Guns by Stephen King (An Essay)

Stephen King has been my favorite author since I was a teenager, sneaking his books home with me from the library and terrifying myself into insomnia for nights on end.

Guns is not a book but an essay that Stephen King wrote and released as a Kindle single through Amazon. It is a commentary on the mass shootings that have plagued our country beginning with the Columbine shootings in 1999. King describes shooters as young men take the lives of others for reasons they themselves cannot even provide once the deed is done, if they survive.

In Guns, King expresses his views about the ownership and use of assault rifles in the U.S. As a handgun owner, he does not argue against citizens' right to bear arms. Instead, he argues that an assault rifle with a high capacity clip has but one purpose: to kill people, and a lot of them at once. The key is to reduce the numbers of assault rifles in our society.

This short essay was followed by an epilogue, the end of which states that 80 people are shot and killed every day in the United States.

Pick this up. It might make you mad.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Yep. This is tough.

Reading two books a week is not easy. It is really, really not easy.

I have noticed, however, that this goal is already making me more resourceful. First, I always try to borrow books from the Smyrna Public Library instead of buying them. Second, I subscribed to the Kindle Unlimited service through Amazon so that I can download books without paying for each and every one of them. Finally, I got an Audible subscription so that I always have an audio book downloaded on my phone and ready for my commute. And last but not least, I have an immense shelf full of every book anyone could ever hope to read. (The problem is, I tend to buy books that are heavy, both in subject matter and weight. Of the something like 500 books that I have at home, only 8 of them are under 300 pages. Sheesh... thanks, Past Self, you screwed me.)

I read about two hours a day in an effort to achieve this goal, and that's already no joke. If I wake up early enough, I read for fifteen to twenty minutes in the morning. I read through my lunch break (a half hour) and read while my boyfriend is watching TV in the evening (another half hour) and then another fifteen to twenty minutes before bed. I have my Kindle or my smart phone with me everywhere I go, so I can whip one of them out if I have to wait twenty minutes at the nail salon or in line at the bank. I still feel like I need to step it up.

It's also making it more obvious to me that people who "don't have time to read" simply don't make time to read. If I can do it, so can you.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Book 142: White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

Carol Anderson's White Rage absolutely wrecked me. I will never forget this book and the horrors within it. And yet there are important lessons, that we as Americans (yes, all Americans) need to acknowledge and own as part of our history.

In White Rage, Anderson documents the African American experience from slavery to present day. She effortlessly ties together aspects of governance and legislation and shows how African Americans were screwed from the beginning, and essentially have been screwed every day since. She describes American presidents who publicly promised equality, then made moves to reduce African American voters' rights, labor laws, and more. This book literally rewrites history, and has sixty pages of references backing up every single statement.

As a peachy-tan American, I will never fully understand the experiences of my fellow citizens with darker skin. I was raised in an integrated Philadelphia neighborhood and never really understood why racism still existed. White Rage gave me a glimpse into the fear and discrimination that no other book before or since has instilled. It made me deeply consider what my life would be had I been born a different color. It gave me a new appreciation for the courage of those who fought for equal rights and continue the fight in 2017, an unimaginable 152 years after the Civil War was ended. It also made me more aware of our country's history of white supremacy, and made me fear extremism even more than I already did.

Carol Anderson is a hell of an author, and this book brings to light many aspects of American history that some would rather not be told. This book made me a more cognizant person, and I would encourage everyone, from every walk of life, to pick this up and devour it like I did.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Book 141: The Elephant in the Room by Jon Ronson

If everything Jon Ronson (which I keep typing as "Ron Johnson") wrote in this book is true, it explains an awful lot.

I'm not a liberal, and I'm not a conservative. I'm right down the middle on a lot of things. I am a patriot and I love my country, but I am not a nationalist; I don't believe in America first. I believe we are part of a big world and we all need to work together for the best interest of the human race. Yes, I know this is not a political blog, but I want you to know where I stand.

In his formative years, Ronson worked on a journalism project with Alex Jones, who hosts the atrociously bad cable news show InfoWars. He knew Jones personally for a short period of time and like many of us, does not understand Jones's public appeal. Jones is crass, explosive, and makes wild claims such as that human babies are being grown in bottles of Pepsi, inside cows, and on the moon. How he ever got his own show is beyond my comprehension.

Here's the disturbing part: Ronson says that Jones and InfoWars also happens to be our newly elected president's choice media source.

The Kindle version is $2 on Amazon, it's worth reading, just to get a different perspective.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Book 140: The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

Although Hal's story was utterly awe-inspiring (catastrophic injuries, fortunes won and lost, and finally, victory), this book was not. 

I like self-help books if they get to the point, but Elrod paddled around the idea of the Miracle Morning for about six chapters before he got to explaining the details of the practice. I didn't feel an entire book needed to be dedicated to these very simple ideas. 

If you do want to read the book and don't want the secret to be ruined, I'll simply tell you that the Miracle Morning involves getting up really early and accomplishing six things that the author says changed his life. It's about building a habit that will help you remain focused throughout your day. 

I think the idea is a good one, but I'm not a morning person and never have been. While I appreciate having enough time to get ready and get the kids out the door, getting up before 6:30 a.m. is sheer horror. I have the world's loudest alarm clock in my room and it does nothing to get me moving. If I could get enough sleep to get up early enough to do this, now that would be a miracle. 

If you decide to read this book, my advice would be to skip ahead.  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Book 139: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

I could not put this book down. I read it in a couple of days during a school week break.

The story of J.D.'s experience growing up in poor white middle America was extraordinarily intimate, which is why it probably stayed on the New York Times Bestseller list for such a long time. His memoir painted a portrait of poverty, mental illness, addiction, death, despair, and violence that was his life before he joined the military and later, attended an ivy league school.

J.D.'s story is profound because at this point in literary history no one has written anything quite like it. It is a unique perspective into a society that is otherwise off limits to outsiders. I can only imagine the inner turbulence Vance must have had, feeling the need to protect the privacy of his loved ones while also wanting so desperately to tell his own story.

As I read this, I felt a bit confused. Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia - these are all a day's drive away from my home in Delaware and my birthplace, Philadelphia. Yet the community and people Vance described in Hillbilly Elegy seem to be worlds away from my own. It definitely gave me something to think about.

I hope you pick up this book - it was absolutely riveting.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Book 138: Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

Appointed by Bill Clinton in 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second female justice to serve the United States Supreme Court. As a teenager, I can remember some adults in my life being very upset about Clinton having appointed a "flaming feminist" to such a high office. Had I known what I know now, I probably would have shouted my own dissent.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg - or RBG - is a truly remarkable individual. Her life story is full of personal and professional tribulations that have served to develop her own deeply held values, with gender equality is at the top of the list. She is a brilliant, compassionate person who has used her own abilities and positions to create paths for others to succeed. I really loved reading about her relationship with her husband Marty, who died just a few years ago. They loved each other dearly, supported one another in their professional and parental roles, and personified marital patience. I look forward to reading more about her life in "My Own Words," a book she published just last year.

I found myself wishing I had the opportunity to meet Justice Ginsburg and ask her a million questions, such as, "Hey, you were born in 1933, just ten years after my grandmother... what made you question traditional gender roles, when everyone else was upholding them?" This - among others - would be the first of many.

The authors Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik included many photos of RBG that I've never seen, and related stories that were truly endearing. Pick it up - you won't regret it.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Book 137: It Worked for Me in Life and Leadership by Colin Powell (Audiobook)

I am a student of leadership, and Colin Powell's book was fascinating to me. It provided a unique view into his own personal values and what he found worked for him throughout his military and political career.

I listened to the audio version, which was read by Powell himself. The book itself was almost organized as a self-help book, with each chapter designed to teach a leadership or life lesson. Powell provided real-life examples of each lesson, which sometimes were funny or endearing. All the while, Powell's readers had the opportunity to view life through the eyes of one of the most accomplished men in American history.

I probably wouldn't have picked up this book at all if a coworker hadn't lent it to me, so I'm glad she did. I know that I am predisposed to pick up certain kinds of books, and sometimes that limits me in ways I'd prefer it didn't.

If you get this, try the audio version. It's great hearing stories told by the man who lived them.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Book 136: A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston (Audiobook)

Bryan Cranston, whom most people know as the dad from "Malcolm in the Middle" and as Heisenberg in "Breaking Bad," has led a fascinating life. And no one can tell it better than him.

I was astounded when I saw this book in the new books bin at the library. My first thought was, Bryan Cranston wrote an autobiography? He's not even old! Knowing I'd never have time to read the book, I requested the audio version and waited for what seemed like forever for the book to appear at the front desk of my beloved Smyrna Public Library. The wait was worth it - Cranston did not disappoint.

The audio version of this book is read by Cranston himself, which I thought was a great decision. As he hashed out the details of his wild and crazy life, I developed a genuine respect for Cranston's career and his ability to grow and change as his many different roles demanded. I also better understood why he had not been successful earlier in life: he was extremely selective about the roles he chose to play. That's a lesson to all of us - jumping at every opportunity would have reduced the quality and value of his craft.

I am intentionally leaving out details, because Cranston's story was fun and surprising from beginning to end. I hope you will pick up this audiobook and enjoy it as much as I did.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

In Memory of My Grandmother, Ruth Spicer Hofknecht

My grandmother, Ruth, was 96 years old when she passed away just after midnight on Sunday morning, April 9. She was the last of my grandparents to pass - the end of a generation - and she hung in there a lot longer than anybody thought she would. 

Grandma Ruth was also an ardent reader, though she preferred quite a different genre than those I like - although psychology and brain injury were on her lists. She was a trained nurse, and worked for the School District of Philadelphia as a beloved school nurse for what seemed like forever. She loved the children she worked with at Jenks School in Chestnut Hill. She was smart, well-read, and kept notes on everything she did.

In her 80s, Grandma Ruth decided to pick up where she left off with her high school French. She never went anywhere without her Bible and her "dungaree" drawstring handbag with "I LOVE JESUS" embroidered on the side. She's known as "Grandma Praise the Lord" because she always greeted everyone that way - even answering the phone.

To my brothers and me, Grandma Ruth was like a third parent, and she drove us all over the place. Sometimes we would just go and sit at Valley Green and feed the ducks... a tradition I kept up when my children were born. She could sit there for hours in her vinyl lawn chair, just watching ducks.

I'm proud of what Grandma Ruth accomplished in her lifetime - she was a strong and proud woman who worked hard and cared about many people.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Preparing to Begin Again!

Dear Readers:

Advanced education is a must in today's professional world, so in 2013 I decided to finish my bachelor's degree with Thomas Edison State University in Trenton, NJ. Immediately after finishing my coursework for the bachelor's degree, I enrolled in Wilmington University's accelerated Master of Science in Management-Health Care Administration program. I'm now three months from finishing my master's degree.

As you might imagine, being a full time student for the past four years has made leisure reading a luxury. Time was not the problem... it had to do with ability. At the end of a workday and a half hour of homework, I just couldn't absorb any more. My brain was like a saturated sponge. I've started ten times the books I've finished, and those I've finished had to be ridiculously good to keep me motivated to finish them before they were due back to the library. I've kept notes on some of the ones I did read; and I'll blog about them as I can remember them. The half finished ones will never make it into this blog.

Still, my coursework had little impact on my ability and desire to devour audiobooks. In fact, I almost completely switched to audiobooks, because listening in the car takes a lot less effort. There are disadvantages, though. It takes longer to finish some books because I read fast, but audiobooks go at their own pace. And it is always a bit frustrating when I would like to re-read something I heard in the audio version, but can't find it again as easily as I might if I was reading a book. All in all, it was a good trade off; in a way I was still reading, though I wasn't capable to sit down with a book at the end of the day.

I have many goals for the infinite number of days ahead of me that will not require me to participate in online discussion forums, take quizzes, or write yet another paper on the Affordable Care Act or medical marijuana. These goals include learning French, losing 30 pounds, and teaching myself how to watercolor and play the banjo. (Incidentally, all of those goals will be attained through reading, to a large extent.) I figure reading a book a week again will be a piece of cake when it's the only goal that has a weekly deadline.

I hope you will continue with me on this journey to find myself through books. I'll resume blogging more frequently in the coming weeks.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

College textbooks are terrible.

What if college textbooks were fascinating because of the way they were delivered? What if textbook companies hired iconic audiobook readers like Maya Angelou, Jeremy Irons, or Tom Stechschulte to narrate them? Wouldn't we all be better, more interested students?

Sigh. If only.

Right now, I'm reading about the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and how it impacts the appeals process for Medicaid, Medicare, and Tricare. No one is narrating it. No one. It's a terrible, boring read.


Dear Tom Stechschulte,

Could you please lend your voice to The Essentials of Managed Healthcare so that I can stay awake (and maybe even absorb some of it) while digesting its contents?

Please and thank you,

Yours truly,

Esther Hofknecht Curtis
Desperate in Delaware


By the way, Tom Stechschulte is my favorite audiobook reader. Read more about him here:

P.S. I do know that Maya Angelou is dead and cannot be hired to record any audiobooks. I was using her as an example.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Book 135: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

I spent two days laughing my head off at this collection of hilarious comics by Allie Brosh. I've giggled at the memes she's drawn, but until now had no idea what a great sense of humor was behind them. From her stories about her dogs to an extremely accurate depiction of depression, I could identify with her every step of the way. And I laughed out loud so many times my boyfriend asked me to put my book away so he could hear the TV.

Pick this up and get the story behind these simple but expressive drawings. If you don't laugh, your sense of humor is damaged.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Book 134: Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons (Audiobook)

 Let me start out by saying that I picked up this audiobook because it was heralded as one of the most disturbing books of all time. Even my favorite author, Stephen King, sang its praises. And it was extremely disturbing, on many levels. Dan Simmons is pretty messed up. Still, I'm not sure that it was as disturbing as some of the books I've read. I reserve the title of most disturbing for books about real life horrors, like the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, and anything written by Ann Coulter. It seems only fair that true tragedy should be much, much more disturbing to us than that which is fictional.

Still, this book was not a disappointment, as far as horror fiction is concerned. The idea of mind vampires - creatures who lived immortal lives and grew younger the more they fed upon their victims - was absolutely terrifying. Their ability to control normal human beings like real-life puppets, even after those humans were clinically dead, was an awful idea for me to entertain.

What begins as an odd series of murders in Charleston ends up being more than that by far, as the book's human characters discover the foul existence of creatures who competed with each other by killing as many people as possible, in the most public manner. They used regular people to carry out their will, making anyone a deadly threat, even a sweet old grandmother or a six-year-old boy.

I enjoyed Simmons' character development, because it made me care so much and hope they would survive. I was heartbroken to lose some of the book's best characters, and I was happy to see those who were evil get their due. Simmons also has a knack for throwing curve balls at his writers; while I was preparing for one outcome, another came out of nowhere. There was not a single boring moment in Carrion Comfort. No character's fate was neatly foreshadowed.

Carrion Comfort was full of surprises and twists to keep you guessing the whole time. I highly recommend this book for those who can take some pretty grisly writing, but I would skip it if you're looking for something you can read in a weekend. After finishing this book, I look forward to experiencing it again, to see what clues I might have missed.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Dr. Annie Norman: The quiet visionary who changed my life

A few days ago, I "met" a person who (until that moment) I never knew changed my life: Dr. Annie Norman, Delaware's state librarian. Check out this blog post on her from Wilmington University, where I'm working to complete my Master's of Science in Management. Take a look here:

How did this woman whom I have never met change my life - so dramatically - for the better? I'll tell you. She created the State of Delaware's online library catalog, and integrated 59 state libraries - including those at universities, to provide Delawareans with access to the State's 2.6 million books, CDs, audiobooks, videos, DVDs, and learning materials.

Let me tell you why Dr. Annie Norman's work matters so much to me.

First, I am a voracious reader. If I had endless amounts of cash, I would certainly spend a mind-boggling amount of money on books and audio recordings to feed my addiction. But I do not have endless amounts of cash. I work a regular job and I am a woman, which means I get paid less than a male who would the same job (that's a topic for another day), and I have other problems to solve with my money, such as keeping a roof over my children's heads and making sure their bellies are full. I cannot afford the books I need (those $200 Master's degree specials that I dread to read), much less pay for the books I want.

Second, I dig deep into books to learn how I can improve the life I currently lead. My formal education at universities are important to me, but quite honestly, they do not compare to the amount of learning and self-reflection I have been able to achieve through books. I consider my formal education (Bachelor's complete, Master's in progress) simply an outward validation of the fact that I am not a blithering idiot. Instead, what really matters to me is the fact that reading has given me insight about myself, about relationships with other people, about learning itself, about writing, about leadership, and about other people's lives. And (bonus!) I get a good dose of delightfully grisly horror fiction to indulge my dark side. (It's a good thing to indulge the dark side in reading, rather than action, if one has a choice.)

The Delaware Library Catalog ( allows me to request any item of interest from the 59 participating libraries throughout the state. For no charge, library couriers will deliver my requested items to the library of my choice (Smyrna Public Library), and I get a text message and email when I've got items waiting for me. I can stop by and see my beloved librarians Ms. Nadine, Ms. Jane, Carol, and Kriss, and the items are waiting for me just behind them. Usually, I get my selections within a day or two. And *poof!* I have a copy of the book to read for two weeks, with the option to renew them for up to six weeks. All anyone needs to access this library system is a library card and access to the internet. If a person doesn't have access to the internet, they can simply call their friendly local librarian, who can make a request on their behalf.

Until reading the Wilmington University blog about Annie Norman, I never knew who was behind this beautiful, seamless system I have come to love so completely. Thanks to Dr. Norman, I have cut the barriers between myself and continued learning. The online Delaware Library Catalog has proven to be an invaluable tool for achieving my own personal and career aspirations, and anyone who does not take advantage of this system is missing out.

Thank you, Dr. Norman, for creating a program that has provided me with endless access to books about self-improvement, how to make my own jewelry, genocide, eating the right stuff, Albert Einstein, crazed axe-wielding nurses, caring for and cleaning antiques, Mahatma Ghandi, love and relationships, zombies, Canada, transgender issues, George Carlin, war, peace, death, and taxes. Thank you for helping me learn that I love sociology. Thank you for exposing me to life-changing ideas which have my own understanding of myself and others, and reduced my own ignorance. Thank you for making it possible to avoid paying $22.50 for what I think will be an amazing book, only to open it, read six pages, and decide it's for the birds. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a better person, employee, mother, friend, daughter, and partner through reading and self-discovery.

A library card truly has been my ticket to the world. Thank you, Dr. Norman, from the bottom of my heart.
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