Category Archives: Books

Nonfiction November – Nov 13-17: Become the Expert

This week for Nonfiction November, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness  (who happens to be one of my very favorite book blogging friends) invites us to either Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert by either sharing three or more books on a single topic that we have read and can recommend (be the expert), put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that we’ve have been dying to read (ask the expert), or create our own list of books on a topic that we would like to read (become the expert).

As I tend to do, I’ve been way overthinking this.

(Overthinking, now’s that’s something I’m an expert in.)

While I wouldn’t call myself an expert, there are certain subjects I tend to gravitate towards in my nonfiction choices.

Autism.

Politics and current events.

Death.

Feminism.

Mindfulness and spirituality.

Food.

LGBTQ issues.

I could easily and happily recommend three books to you on any of the above topics. (Feel free to ask me in the comments if you need a suggestion.)

But an expert?

Nah.

Since I believe there’s always more to learn about a subject, I’ll go with Door #3.

Become the Expert.

Recently, I’ve been seeking out books about the workings of the brain. I don’t mean a neuroscience textbook; rather, I’m very curious to learn more about memory and how trauma affects our memories. In addition to autism, our family has been impacted by dementia, depression and anxiety, migraines, and PTSD. I’m interested in reading more about all of these. A lot of lifestyle issues — sleep, exercise, food, stress, connection with others — are crucial to our brain health and our overall well-being.

A few books on this topic that I’m interested in reading include:

The Inheritance: A Family on the Front Lines of the Battle Against Alzheimer’s Disease 
by Niki Kapsambelis

Earlier this summer our library hosted Niki for a talk and book-signing. The Inheritance focuses on the DeMoe family. Of the six DeMoe children, five have inherited the genetic mutation that causes early onset Alzheimer’s; the sixth, Karla, has inherited the responsibility for all of them. But rather than give up in the face of such news, the DeMoes have agreed to spend their precious, abbreviated years as part of a worldwide study that could utterly change the landscape of Alzheimer’s research and offers the brightest hope for future treatments—and possibly a cure. Much of this research is happening right here in Pittsburgh.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
by Matthew Walker, PhD.

In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer’s
by Joseph Jebelli

Memory Rescue: Supercharge Your Brain, Reverse Memory Loss, and Remember What Matters Most
by Daniel G. Amen

How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
by Lisa Barrett Feldman

Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia 
by Gerda Saunders

 

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classics club spin #16

While catching up on some blog reading the other day, I was inspired by my friend JoAnn at Lakeside Musings who wrote about completing The Classics Club challenge and decided to check in on my own progress.

It’s … not that great.

No surprise there.

The Classics Club is a book challenge that started in March 2012 with the goal of reading at least 50 classic books within five years. Short stories, novellas and poetry all count. Re-reads are allowed too, so even if you know you read something in high school but you don’t remember anything about it, that’s fair game. You can join the club anytime. And it is somewhat flexible. I don’t do well with challenges or reading games where one needs to adhere to a list that’s set in stone until the end of time since preferences change and, as we know, I have zero qualms about abandoning books as soon as they aren’t working for me.

To participate, all one needs to do is post a list of at least 50 classics that you plan to read within the next five years, which I did in this post (“dustin’ off that English degree, joining the classics club”) here.   In my typical over-committing style, my original list included more than 100 books.

That was in April 2015. Two and a half years later, I’ve added to that list since then but haven’t made much of a dent in it. I’ve read three:

The Complete Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway
A Moveable Feast, also by Hemingway
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

And three additional books were DNFs:
The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens
The Very Best of O. Henry by O. Henry
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allen Poe.

The Classics Spin #16 

Coincidentally, it’s time for another Classics Club “spin.” This is a fun part of the challenge where, every so often, the organizers do a “spin” where participants list on your blog (or wherever) 20 classics from your list that are still unread. The organizers select a random number and whatever book corresponds to that number is the book you need to read by a certain date. They’ll select a number on Friday.

Clearly, this is fate that I need to do this, right? Here’s my list of 20 books:

  1. Allison, Dorothy: Bastard Out of Carolina
  2. Atwood, Margaret: The Blind Assassin
  3. Baldwin, James: The Fire Next Time
  4. Baldwin, James: Giovanni’s Room
  5. Calvino, Italo: If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler
  6. Dickens, Charles: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  7. Du Maurier, Daphne: Rebecca
  8. Fitzgerald, Zelda: Save Me the Waltz
  9. Irving, John: A Prayer for Owen Meany
  10. Kundera, Milan: The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  11. McCullers, Carson: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  12. O’Connor, Flannery: A Good Man is Hard to Find
  13. O’Connor, Flannery: Wise Blood
  14. Orwell, George: 1984
  15. Plath, Sylvia: Ariel
  16. Wharton, Edith: The Age of Innocence
  17. Wollstonecraft, Mary: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
  18. Woolf, Virginia: The Complete Shorter Fiction
  19. Woolf, Virginia: A Room of One’s Own
  20. Woolf, Virginia: Orlando

Update 11/17/2017:  And the lucky number is … 4!  Which means I’ll be reading Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.  This has been on my TBR for awhile so I’m glad to finally get to it.

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Nonfiction November – Nov 6-10

I’m participating in Nonfiction November which is being hosted by Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), Lory (Emerald City Book Review) and Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness).  Each week, a different host will offer a writing prompt pertaining to nonfiction books and reading.

For Week 2 (Nov. 6 to 10), Sarah @ Sarah’s Book Shelves invites us to pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.”

Here are three combinations that come to mind:

In these times, I think there’s no better pairing than What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s reflections on the 2016 presidential campaign with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, because I honest-to-God believe that’s where we’re headed. And it terrifies the hell out of me.

The Floating World, set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, shows the Boisdoré family emotionally adrift from their community and each other. It would pair well with Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, Sheri Fink’s harrowing account of the storm’s impact on patients, families and the medical team at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in August 2005.

Thirty years after its publication, And the Band Played On by journalist Randy Shilts is still the definitive account about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and a book everyone should read. So is The Heart’s Invisible Furies, a novel by John Boyne which spans seven decades. I’ve been recommending this to everyone.

Do you have a fiction and nonfiction book pairing to suggest?

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Nonfiction November – My Year in Nonfiction

In addition to NaBloPoMo (that’s National Blog Posting Month), I’m also participating in Nonfiction November. As the title suggests, it is a month-long celebration of everything nonfiction and is hosted by Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), Lory (Emerald City Book Review) and Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), founder of the event and who explains the event’s history here. Each week, a different host will offer a writing prompt pertaining to nonfiction books and reading. Everyone is welcome to join in the fun, connect with other avid readers, and get plenty of great book recommendations to topple your piles and shelves.

For Week 1 (Oct 30 to Nov 3), Julie @ JulzReads asks about our Year in Nonfiction.

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Favorite Nonfiction Read of the Year

So far, I’ve read a total of 43 books this year and nearly half (21) were nonfiction. Eight of those were on audio. I usually don’t announce my favorites until year’s end or sometime in January, but here are the titles on my shortlist as of today — and it may be close to my definitive list because I won’t be able to choose just one. There are certainly some similarities and common themes, but they are all fantastic in their own right.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A collection of powerfully insightful essays written by Coates during each of the eight years of Obama’s presidency.

What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Reflections on the 2016 presidential campaign by the woman who should be sitting in the White House right now.

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, by Rebecca Solnit
How history shows us that hope is always possible, even in the most difficult times.

Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, by Derek Thompson
What makes something “go viral” or become wildly popular? It has much more to do with logic, patterns and familiarity than luck.

Big Love: The Power of Loving with a Wide Open Heart, by Scott Stabile
Embracing love and cultivating resilience in the midst of deep hurt, adversity and challenges.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by the Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Adams
Thoughts and reflections from the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu on choosing to be joyful despite life’s struggles and fears.

Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After, by Heather Harpham
A heart-wrenching and inspirational memoir about finding happiness and love through risk.

You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen, by Eric Liu
We all have the ability to be catalysts for change.

Wishful Drinking, by Carrie Fisher
Hilarious memoir about growing up as “Hollywood royalty” and coping with addiction and mental illness.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, by Caitlin Doughty
A wry and witty memoir and travelogue about death rituals in the most remote corners of the globe as compared to those in American culture.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?
I’ve recommended most of the ones above, especially What Happened and Wishful Drinking (a fantastic audiobook, by the way). I just finished We Were Eight Years in Power this week and I think it should be mandatory reading for every American.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?
I’d have to say American and world history. Most of my history reading is more biographical, current affairs, and political.  

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
Book recommendations, connections with other bloggers (both new to me and those already in my feed), and inspiration for several posts.

Looking forward to a great Nonfiction November!

 


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Book Review: From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, by Caitlin Doughty

The Husband says that I have a morbid fascination with death.

And he’s absolutely correct.

For the longest time, I thought that it was perfectly normal to read the obituaries every day — at 15 years old. (What, didn’t every teenager do that?)

I have a Spotify playlist titled Funeral Songs that I’ve selected as my personal soundtrack for that occasion. There’s a file folder on my laptop with the exact photos I would like displayed.

Maybe it’s the former special events planner in me. Most likely, it’s something embedded deep in my psyche as a result of my father dying suddenly and unexpectedly at age 44, when I was 15. (Hence, the reason for the daily obit readings.) I should probably bring all this up to my therapist at some point, not like we’re lacking for agenda items. Regardless, these are important details that can’t be left to chance. Besides, The Husband says he’s grateful for this vital information because should he wind up being the one in charge of these logistics, he expects to be in no shape to do so.

As well he should be.

Needless to say, I was pretty certain that I was going to love reading From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty and it did not disappoint. Curious to learn more about other cultures’ approaches to death, Doughty traveled to remote corners of the globe (and several United States locales) to observe and participate in rituals that may initially seem bizarre and macabre, but are rich in tradition, dignity and deep meaning.

Let me tell you, this sounds like my kind of trip. I found myself feeling slightly envious of Doughty, getting to experience such Mexico’s Días de los Muertos parade (today is All Soul’s Day, hence the reason for telling you about this book today). She travels to Indonesia for the ma’nene‘, an elaborate annual ceremony where the mummified dead are exhumed after several years, outfitted with new clothes and marched around the village in house-like structures. Who wouldn’t want to see that?!

*adds seeing the ma’nene’ to Bucket List*

In Spain, families rent rooms in oratorios (chapels) and “spend the entire day with their dead, showing up first thing in the morning and staying until the doors close at 10 p.m.,” while the deceased is visible under glass. (Note to The Husband: plan on that for my funeral, please. An all day party sounds perfect.) Green burials are explored in North Carolina; an outdoor cremation on a natural pyre is held in Colorado. A swipe of a coded key card at Japan’s high-tech Ruriden columbarium allows mourners to instantly identify their loved one’s resting place among 600 other souls represented by an illuminated wall of Buddhas.

As I write in my Shelf Awareness book review, From Here to Eternity is my kind of book. Part travelogue, part memoir, and part commentary on America’s corporatized, sterile death industry, Doughty writes with a keenly sharp wit and wry humor.

This one has earned a spot on my Best Books of 2017 List, absolutely. For more, read my full review here.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death
by Caitlin Doughty 
W.W. Norton
272 pgs.
2017 

 

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10 Years, 10 Books (#Readathon Challenge)

There’s a fun challenge happening today in celebration of Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon’s 10th anniversary.

Participants are asked to submit one book recommendation published in each year of the Readathon (2007-2017).

Now this is a #readathon challenge I can do!  All these books are ones I’ve personally read and gave at least 4 stars to on Goodreads.

I’ll even take this one step further. I’ll add a * if it’s a book published that year that I read during a Readathon! How’s that for book nerdiness?

2007

Dog Years: A Memoir, by Mark Doty

2008

Zenobia: The Curious Book of Business, by Matthew Emmons and Beth Kephart *

2009

Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

2010

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, by Carey Wallace *

2011

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes*

2012

Helen Keller in Love, by Rosie Sultan

2013

In the Body of the World, by Eve Ensler

2014

History of the Rain, by Niall Williams

2015

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nahisi Coates

2016

Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton *

2017

Long Black Veil, by Jennifer Finney Boylan

 

 

 

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Ready for the Readathon! (Kick Off Post)

It’s a special day for the book blogging community … today marks 10 years of Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon, an event occurring every April and October that brings bibliophiles together for a day of reading and talking about books with other kindred souls.

Dewey was a beloved book blogger who founded this event in October 2007. Sadly, she passed away shortly thereafter but I have to think she would have been thrilled to see how her idea of spending 24 hours reading has grown into something that brings people together across the globe.

I’m pretty sure I’ve been participating in Read-a-thon since the beginning. I seem to remember the first one.  However, I looked back at my blog archives and the first time I posted about it was April 2009. Regardless, that’s a lot of years — some more successful and productive than others, but always a fun time, which is the point. In the end, it really doesn’t matter how many hours or books you’ve read, but the enjoyment you’ve gotten while doing so.

I guess that’s true of life itself, right?

Currently, I seem to be in the middle of a bunch of books that I’ve had checked out of the library for quite some time. (At our library, we have unlimited renewals, so you can practically keep books forever as long as someone hasn’t requested it). Here are the books I have in my Read-a-thon queue and as always, this pile is subject to change throughout the day.

What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Yoga Mind, Peaceful Mind: Simple Meditations for Overcoming Anxiety, by Mary Nurriestearns
The Trump Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Living Through What You Hoped Would Never Happen, by Gene Stone
The Black Unicorn, Poems by Audre Lorde
Hourglass, by Dani Shapiro
Happy Foods: Over 100 Mood-Boosting Recipes, by Karen Wang Diggs
Living Mindfully: At Home, At Work and in the World, by Deborah Schoeberlein David
The Feelgood Plan: Happier, Healthier and Slimmer in 15 Minutes a Day, by Dalton Wong
Namaslay: Rock Your Yoga Practice, Tap Into Your Greatness, and Defy Your Limits, by Candace Moore

Clearly, there’s a bit of a theme going on here. (I also just realized there isn’t any fiction — much as I wish that The Trump Survival Guide was.) Like I said, that may change.

To get this started officially, here’s the Opening Meme:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! It’s a beautiful, warm day outside so hopefully some of my reading time will be spent on the deck.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Hourglass, by Dani Shapiro

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Starbucks Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I’ve been blogging for 9 years.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

Probably won’t do anything different. I’ve learned that the Read-a-thon works best when I keep it low-key, fun, and minimal pressure. That said, my goals for today are:
1) Finish at least one in-progress book.
2) Rediscover my blogging mojo. I’ve been rather scarce in this space lately and sometimes the Read-a-thon helps inspire me to want to blog more frequently.
3) Have fun!

I’m planning to do at least one update post here, participate in some Twitter conversations (I’m @thefirmangroup) and possibly Instagram and Litsy, too.

Happy Read-a-thoning, everybody!

 

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