You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘memoir’ tag.

21. Inferno
Last year I was a bit obsessed Dante’s Inferno. In retrospect, I’m not entirely sure what that was all about.  The obsession carried over a little into 2016, which is why I read Dan Brown’s Inferno. Here’s the plot in a nutshell (and this sums up the plot of all three Dan Brown books I’ve read): a handsome, brilliant professor gets called in by some organization to save the world from utter doom by using his knack for solving puzzles and his esoteric knowledge of symbology. After reading this novel I felt like I had just completed a course on art history. I found myself nerdishly looking up all the images of all the art that was referenced. It also felt like I’d just read a travel guide to Florence, Italy.  Embedded in between the art history course and the travel guide, there is a relatively good story, but the characters lack dimension.

22. The Brain: The Story of You

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist with a fancy academic pedigree – he was mentored by Francis Crick. Does the word “pedigree” make anyone else think about dog shows? Non sequitur. Anyway, I just discovered that The Brain: The Story of You was written as a companion book for his PBS documentary, which I haven’t seen yet. It works fine as a stand-alone book.  It touches on big picture topics like how the brain constructs reality, how it makes decisions, how it constructs a sense of self, how it does empathy, etc.  It is very well written and a good choice for the layperson interested in catching up on the latest trends in brain research.

23. Brain on Fire

This is the memoir of a reporter who was diagnosed with anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis following a psychotic episode that left her strapped to a hospital bed. The condition was treated, she recovered, and wrote the book. I appreciate that it gets the word out about a rare condition.  The expository aspect of the book was fairly well written, but I didn’t particularly enjoy reading the autobiographical bits where the writing had a fledgling, gratuitous quality. I think it would have worked better as a magazine article.
24. The Belly Dance Handbook

I bought the book following a workshop I took from Princess Farhana, who is a knowledgeable, generous, and just plain fun teacher.  The handbook is all about the business of being a professional belly dancer. She covers a wide-range of topics:  classes, contracts, costuming, makeup, music, stage lighting, swords, veils, zaghareets, and zills. It’s loaded with tips, tricks, and pitfalls to avoid.

25. A Dirty Job

Hapless agents of Death abound in San Francisco’s used bookstores and  thrift shops, where objects and the souls they contain are peddled to the soulless in the natural order of things until one mysterious buyer with dubious intentions arrives on the scene. We come to know and understand this strange world through the eyes of Charlie Asher, a beta-male, recent-widower,  new father, and newly-minted death merchant in a tale that is equal parts fabulous and ridiculous.

I almost never re-read books, but this one was my suggestion for the book club.  It’s been almost a decade since I read it for the first time – it was just as good the second time.

26. Second Hand Souls

This is the sequel to Dirty Jobs.  Asher’s little girl is growing up and causing a ruckus.  Goth girls, vampires, the homeless “mayor” of San Francisco, hell hounds, Buddhist monks, the squirrel people, Minty Fresh — you’ll find all the same strange characters from the first book, plus a few ghosts and new weirdos.  It’s as funny as the first one.

27. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High

Just adding more tools to the box with this one. I read it and then re-read it. Again, something I rarely do. It was a book referenced in Thanks for the Feedback (see below).

28. Thanks for the Feedback

I originally read Thanks for the Feedback in an effort to sharpen clinical and communication skills. However, the information seems widely applicable and much needed for everyone given the current political climate. Employing the techniques might help us all  find our way back to civil discourse. Stone and Heen discuss the art and science of giving and receiving feedback. They emphasize the receiving end of the interaction (i.e., listening), particularly when you would rather not listen to what’s being said (e.g., in a tough feedback conversation).  The deep listening techniques the authors describe are intended to enable you to respond productively rather than to simply react in ways that may be counterproductive. Their explanation of why it’s so hard to listen to dissenting opinions is grounded in research on the cognitive neuroscience of empathy. It’s a smart, well-written book.

29. Take the Stairs

Take the Stairs is our book club pick for the new year. It’s packed with motivational ideas like “visioneering,” which is  creating a vivid mental image of your ideal life that will inspire you to take action on a daily basis. Vaden recommends scheduling virtually every moment of day. Beyond the formal work day schedule, he suggests scheduling (in writing) additional time weekly for five basic areas of life: Faith, family, faculty (i.e., work), fitness, and finances.  His suggestion reminded me of a visit to the Clinton Museum and Presidential Library, where they have an exhibit displaying the daily schedules for Bill Clinton while he was in office. His schedules were packed with  back-to-back activities from early morning to late night.  I was exhausted just thinking about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good schedule. Mine is hand-written, color-coded and cross-referenced with a spreadsheet of goals/resolutions and to-do lists. But that’s my work life. I don’t want to schedule my “off” time to this extent.  Back to the book. Much of it I had read elsewhere, but one unique suggestion was to not attempt to achieve balance in the five areas of life.  Instead, Vaden, recommends using “harvest time” to get the most out of the seasonal shifts of life.

30.Top Secret Twenty-One

My sister and I joined a mystery reader’s book club in the 90s and that is where we first read Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money. Maybe that’s why I experience a bit of nostalgia every time I step into a Stephanie Plum mystery. It’s like returning home to catch up with family and old friends (minus the dead bodies and exploding cars, of course).  The series is formulaic, thus predictable, and it still makes me laugh.

This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain.  It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love.  A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern-to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.

–Vladimir Nabokov

The last few weeks I have passed many a quiet hour in the company of a brilliant and fascinating dead man.

While I sat in a chair swinging and sipping a cup of steaming tea, he shared detailed memories of his happy childhood.  Near the warm glow of a fire, he taught me new words (cacology, fop, vicissitudes, incunabula, and impecunious) and secret things about butterflies. I was saddened by his tales of war and exile, even as he kept these in the periphery of a vividly lived life. He showed me sunsets in Berlin, gardens in St. Petersburg, and seashores along the western coast of France.  Last night as I turned the last page of Nabokov’s memoir, it felt a lot like losing a friend.  What a beautiful mind.

Speak, Memory; An Autobiography Revisited is the literary equivalent of a truffle.  I savored it in small bites, never wanting it to end.

 

 


The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Synopsis:  A cynical writer searches for the world’s happiest place

You might like this if you liked:  Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)

Recommended to: Grumpy people

What I loved about it:  This was my first Weiner book, so I wasn’t sure whether I would like it or not.  Truth be told, he seems like a bit of an ass, but he had me at the first mention of a PET scan. I’m one of those people who enjoy reading books peppered with sound-bites of science, culture, history, and philosophy.  Like right here on page 41, in a chapter on Switzerland, he manages to work Einstein AND Bertrand Russell into a passage. Later on page 183, he combines Iceland, Aristotle, and Nietzsche. Gosh—it just makes me feel all heady and smart in the same way that sprinkling wheat germ in pancake batter makes me feel healthy, even if I do wind up drenching it all with butter and syrup.

So yes, I will be reading him again.  Plus, I now have added two new places to my bucket list: Bhutan and Moldova.

What was unexpected:  Weiner was a little mean to the Moldovans. 

Best Quotes: There were so many fabulous descriptions of places and people, so I will give you a few:

In Bangkok, the sacred and the profane exist side by side, like a divorced couple who, for financial reasons, decide to continue living together.

Watching Brits shed their inhibitions is like watching elephants mate. You know it happens, it must, but it’s noisy, awkward as hell, and you can’t help but wonder: Is this something I really need to see?

India does not disappoint. It captivates, infuriates, and occasionally, contaminates.  It never disappoints.

Qataris have no culture.  Frankly, I can’t blame them.  If you spent a few thousand years scraping by in the desert, fending off the solid heat, not to mention various invading tribes, you wouldn’t have time for culture either.

 

Three Weeks with My Brother

Synopsis: Nicholas takes a trip around the world with his brother and the two reminisce about their family.

You might like this if you liked: Message in a Bottle, The Rescue, The Notebook, A Walk to Remember (Nicholas Sparks)

Recommended to: Fans of Nicholas Sparks, people trying to make sense of loss

What I loved about it:  In his fictional work, Nicholas Sparks writes sweet stories of love, family, and loss.  His memoir moved along the same themes and provided insight into why he tells the stories he tells.  The speech-language pathologist in me was also particularly interested in the intense work Sparks described doing with his son, Ryan, to help him learn to communicate.

What was unexpected: This book is not so much about the places traveled in real time as it is the places traveled in the past.  That said, Sparks does deliver enough descriptions of places they visited that I added a few destinations to my bucket list (e.g., Machu Picchu, Peru and Phnom Pehn, Cambodia).

Best Quote:

Standing next to Micah, I realized that there were times when we talked not because we needed to communicate anything important, but simply because we each drew comfort from the other’s voice.


Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

Author: Jenny Lawson

Synopsis: Jenny Lawson had a crazy childhood in Texas with her taxidermist dad and lunch lady mom.

You might like this if you liked: Running with Scissors (Augusten Burroughs) or The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)

Recommended to:  those who enjoy reading memoirs of people from outside-the-norm dysfunctional families because it makes us feel a bit relieved about our own upbringing.

Highlights: It’s pretty funny.

Lowlights: It might be slightly more funny to readers from Generation Y than to Generation X. It may be questionable that whatever generations came before us would find the amusement in the book. The stories are different, but the humorous devices can be a little redundant, particularly the phrase “YOU’RE WELCOME” which often following some piece of unsolicited advice.

Best Quote: I can finally see that all the terrible parts of my life, the embarrassing parts, the incidents I wanted to pretend never happened, and the things that make me “weird” and “different,” were actually the most important parts of my life.  They were the parts that made me ME.


I Suck at Girls

Author: Justin Halpern

Synopsis: Justin Halpern recounts his sexploits.

You might like this if you liked: Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris)

Recommended to: People who like to read funny things and to people who like wise dads.

Highlights:  The story about stealing porn from the homeless was so funny it made me laugh until I cried.  I had to read it aloud to three other people to make sure it was as funny as I thought it was.  It was.

Lowlights:  It’s fluffy.  That could be a good or a bad thing.

Best Quote:

Eventually my dad got home from work and set his briefcase down.
‘So. How was practice?’ he asked
‘It was good. Why? Did you hear it wasn’t?’ I said, trying to keep my cool.
‘Son, no offense, but you play Little League. It’s not the Yankees. I don’t get daily reports about who’s hitting the shit out of the ball”

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