Tag Archives: non-fiction

The Wordy Shipmates – Sarah Vowell

I think my exhaustion is not going to do honor to this last review – but in your mind, know that I loved it.

I don’t listen to NPR, so I did not know anything about Sarah Vowell, other than my boss thinks she has a very unique voice (that would apparently drive me nuts) and so many people recommended her, and this book to me – that I finally picked it up.

So glad I did. The short version is: It’s about the Puritans. The long version? The founding of a nation, religious doctrine, feminism, rifts in Protestantism, the separation of church and state, nationalism and patriotism. Her writing is funny, engaging and insightful. I really love her comparisons to modern politics, and it’s peppered with personal stories about the research itself.

I love when books do that awesome thing where afterwards, I feel like some sort of expert on something I didn’t even know I wanted to know anything about.

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Not Becoming My Mother – Ruth Reichl

Just in time for Mother’s Day! Who says I am not organized or timely?

I have read Reichl’s other memoirs, and enjoyed them – both her writing and her stories of being a famous food critic. Unfortunately, this wasn’t that enjoyable.

Reichl has mentioned stories about her mom before, in affectionately called “Mim Tales” – but this book felt more like a task she had to complete, rather than a labor of love. It was short – I think a little less than 100 pages, and was really just her looking over notes and writings that her mom had left behind – both of her mother and her grandmother. It was about the bleakness of life for women of the “Greatest Generation” and seemed an ode to the importance of work outside the home for women. You learn later that Ruth and her mom were estranged, and only hints as to why, but this seems to be her own reconciling with the life her mom had, and why she is glad she had such a different life and outcome.  But – the book itself? Repititive, self-indulgent and just kind of melancholy.

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Will the Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby? – Allyson Beatrice

This book was found on the shelves in the office of a Buffy-loving coworker. I really loved it! I don’t know how exactly to explain it. A series of essays about fandom? Or internet fandom? Or, communities that spring up around TV shows. It wasn’t exactly about the Buffy fans in particular, but of course, prominent Buffy characters featured prominently. It seemed to be more about the internet, and community. Something that is near and dear to my heart, because of my involvement in NerdNYC.

My favorite sections of the book talked about how riled up and angry the author gets with interlopers and trolls in her community and the frustration she feels when the community gets all hugs and ponies about it, instead of the “Cut a Bitch” style that she (and I) favor.

I loved her story of the internet as a family. As a girl whose closest friends all now live within blocks and were met on the “interwebs” – I can relate.

In terms of Buffy – it was a little sad to hear that while she is in close touch with some of the writers, Joss really has no idea who she really is. But I loved how much credit she gives to the writers, and not the actors. And that she goes into fanfic, and who stories really belong to.

I wasn’t expecting to like this book much at all, but I found the writer engaging, funny and  – the book just kind of hit a chord with me. The only criticism I would offer is that sometimes it felt a little disjointed – some stories were repeated, or characters reintroduced. You don’t need to be a Buffy fan to like the book (but I am sure it helps), but I think you definitely need to be an internet nerd.

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It Sucked and Then I Cried – Heather Armstrong

How I had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita

I have been reading Dooce.com for a few months now, and for most bloggers – “Dooce” is living the dream. Heather is a full-time blogger that makes enough money to support her family, and has recently written a book. The book doesn’t break any new ground, but is an accounting of the time period of her pregnancy and battle with post-partum depression. For a relatively new reader like me, I knew this existed and had glanced at the archives, so I don’t know if offered anything truly new, but it was a really engaging read.

I am please to report that Heather’s book-writing is a lot like her blog writing, and her voice is clear and personal. Her stories of pregnancy and all the things “no one ever tells you” is heartbreaking and terrifying and served as an excellent reminder to take my birth control medication. But her stories of how much she loves Leta make the whole thing seem worth it. Especially since even if I do have kids, and may eventually have to deal with post-partum depression, I wouldn’t have a regular history of chronic depression to contend with as well.

But, more than just an ode to motherhood – you realize that the true hero, in Heather’s eyes is her husband.  I have read a lot about mental illness, and the one thing I always come away with is how much it affects the people who love the patient. She holds her husband in high regard, and their love story is what remains, in my mind. Also, cute pictures of kids dressed up as frogs.

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Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography

This was a pick for the Tutor.com Office Book Club, so I am kind of “discussed” out, but for your enjoyment – some thoughts!

  • This man is amazing. As much as I thought I knew about him, I didn’t. Printing, bifocals, electricity, sure. But paving roads, libraries and the Freemasons? What doesn’t this guy do? How many “Renaissance Men” have there really been? Him, DaVinci and Jefferson?
  • It’s amazing what has been left out. Some of it was intentional, because he knew history would take care of it, but it never ceases to amaze me that there was very little mention of his wife or children. Wouldn’t expect a female autobiography to gloss over all of that.
  • Interesting to think about how the autobiography or memoir has changed as a genre, and writing styles.
  • Definitely recommend the Norton Critical Edition of the book. Having some reference material made a somewhat dry book very interesting.
  • Franklin was an ethical vegetarian
  • And a serious cheapskate! He remembers every not-yet-a-dime ever spent!
  • Man, this guy is funny. You sometimes have to look for it, but he’s kind of a riot.
  • The ambition, the drive, the commitment.
  • Couldn’t help but wonder what Ben would have been like in today’s world – would have been as successful? Devoted himself to which causes? Would he be an inventor? Professor? Media mogul? Politician? Would today’s society allow him the meteoric rise that he had back then?
  • Thinking about what impact he may have had on today’s leaders – comparisons between Obama and Franklin
  • Interesting to think about some of the issues that he felt strongly about still being debated today, namely the debate over immunization
  • He talked a lot about humility, but obviously had a hard time with it. If that was his worst quality? Forgiven.

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Three Cups of Tea – Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

I read this upon the suggestion of my friend Michelle. I had it on my list for awhile, but her glowing review sent me straight to the library.

Wow.

This was a book that I just couldn’t put down. It was seemingly written more by Relin than by Mortenson, and I had my nitpicks, but the overall message and story was so inspiring and so moving and hopeful, that they were easily overlooked. (Okay, not entirely overlooked. One of my major nitpicks is the almost deification of Mortenson, and it’s written in theory, by him – but it seems as if it was a posthumous biography. I was almost shocked that he is still [fortunately] alive.)

This is essentially the true story of one man’s struggle and determination to build schools for the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson himself is amazing, but the story of these people and the conditions and the obstacles is the true star, in my mind.

The book also served to confirm and validate my long-held belief that a lot of the world’s problems and poverty could be alleviated or eradicated by focusing on the education and empowerment of women and children. If you give a woman the chance to free herself from poverty, and an education, they can protect themselves from tyranny. They can become self-supporting and in turn, can show her children that there is another way. If you are raised in poverty and have the bleakest of futures, it’s hard to imagine a better world, and it’s easy to turn to hate.  If you have a future, and a chance, and access to at the very least, clean water, food and medical care, then maybe we can turn future potential terrorists who had to unite against something to people who can create their own paths and futures.

Give a woman a chance to participate in her government and economy, or be able to read and write and you will give her options. My guess is that the options will be to take care of her children, and most likely have less children that she can’t afford, and stay in marriages where she may be abused. We need to stop treating women like second class citizens, and invest more time, money and effort into those that will be raising the next generation.

The “Three Cups of Tea” refers to the idea that the idea that “he first cup of tea, you’re a stranger; the second cup, a friend; and the third cup, you’re family.” It was a nice reminder that relationships have to be built, and once they are, when they are maintained, there is nothing stronger.

The book was so inspiring and hopeful, that as I was reading it, I kept hoping that we had a different outcome. For example, he is in the Middle East when the attacks on 9/11 happen, and reading about the CAI trying to get tribal leaders together and rally against Osama and for educating women, I actually had a glimmer of hope that it was all going to be okay, and we wouldn’t be bombing innocents. Of course, this didn’t happen. But if the CAI and other organizations succeed in educating women and children, I want to believe that this won’t happen again.

You can read more about the book and the story on their website, and I highly recommend that you do. I as so moved, that I made a contribution to the  Central Asia Institute’s charity at www.ikat.org. My guess is that after reading this book, you will want to do so as well.

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Saving the World at Work – Tim Sanders

What Companies and Individuals Can Do to Go Beyond Making a Profit to Making a Difference

I keep trying to read these kinds of books, and often they just aren’t very good. This one was definitely better than the rest. The idea of course is that there is lots of stuff you can do to make the world a better place, and some of it is at your place of business. This is all true and good, but what irritated me was his main point was that you don’t have to be a CEO to affect change, and yet his main case study in proof of this was of an intern getting her mom to give her boss some sort of book about how bad the carpet industry is. The boss left it on the CEO’s desk (with no comment) and it wasn’t until the CEO faced some sort of external pressure for change from shareholders did he see the book on his desk. This seemed more like serendipity then a how-to on getting CEO’s to change direction.

I was a little disappointed that there weren’t more tips for non-CEOs.  As employees it’s harder to get high-level change, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can’t do on our own. For example, I am unsubscribing us from junk mail. You can also put CFL bulbs in your desk lamps, and if you have a kitchen, bring some old silverware and place settings for people to use, instead of disposable products. You may be able to convince who ever orders supplies to make some more eco-friendly choices, especially if you can prove that the company will be saving money.

One thing that I really enjoyed about the book, was something I felt was a little misguided, but I liked the spirit of. The author believes that this newest generation of employees cares about their impact on the world as a whole, and wants to work for a company that not only treats them well, but also tries for a better impact on the world as a whole. Whether it’s a mission based business, or just a responsible company. It’s something I certainly feel strongly about, but I am not convinced enough that my peers are. But, I liked it anway.  It seemed an appeal to CEOs and HR to make sure they are offering benefits that reflect a more progressive world view as they only way to attract great employees (benefits for domestic partners, paid time off for volunteer/community work). I really love the concept, and it’s something I hope to accomplish in my future career goals. There was one interaction Sanders described, which I am paraphrasing here:

Recruit: Do you offer benefits for domestic partners?

Interviewer: Why? Are you gay?

Recruit: No, but but I am evolved, and I want to work for a company that is as well.

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