Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Bassoon King

Finished The Bassoon King by Rainn Wilson.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Rainn Wilson’s memoir about growing up geeky and finally finding his place in comedy, faith, and life.
 
For nine seasons Rainn Wilson played Dwight Schrute, everyone’s favorite work nemesis and beet farmer. Viewers of The Office fell in love with the character and grew to love the actor who played him even more. Rainn founded a website and media company, SoulPancake, that eventually became a bestselling book of the same name. He also started a hilarious Twitter feed (sample tweet: “I’m not on Facebook” is the new “I don’t even own a TV”) that now has more than four million followers.

Now, he’s ready to tell his own story and explain how he came up with his incredibly unique sense of humor and perspective on life. He explains how he grew up “bone-numbingly nerdy before there was even a modicum of cool attached to the word.” The Bassoon King chronicles his journey from nerd to drama geek (“the highest rung on the vast, pimply ladder of high school losers”), his years of mild debauchery and struggles as a young actor in New York, his many adventures and insights about The Office, and finally, Wilson’s achievement of success and satisfaction, both in his career and spiritually, reconnecting with the artistic and creative values of the Bahá’í faith he grew up in.”

I am a huge fan of The Office and so I would’ve read this book even without the fact that the introduction is written by one Dwight K. Schrute.  (If you love that show as much as I do, I absolutely dare you not to read it and not laugh out loud at least three times on every page.  AT LEAST.)

So yeah, come for the parts by Dwight and the Office anecdotes, but you’ll stay for the rest of it.  It’s clever and sweet and just good.

I always forget just how many things Rainn Wilson has done that I’ve loved (including, God help me, House of 1,000 Corpses).  Obviously I think of The Office first, but he’s also in Galaxy Quest! Almost Famous!  The Rocker (one of the most underrated comedies ever, according to me).

Also, he just sounds like a great human, and we need more of those.

Recommended.

Her Again

Finished Her Again by Michael Schulman.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A portrait of a woman, an era, and a profession: the first thoroughly researched biography of Meryl Streep—the “Iron Lady” of acting, nominated for nineteen Oscars and winner of three—that explores her beginnings as a young woman of the 1970s grappling with love, feminism, and her astonishing talent.

In 1975 Meryl Streep, a promising young graduate of the Yale School of Drama, was finding her place in the New York theater scene. Burning with talent and ambition, she was like dozens of aspiring actors of the time—a twenty-something beauty who rode her bike everywhere, kept a diary, napped before performances, and stayed out late “talking about acting with actors in actors’ bars.” Yet Meryl stood apart from her peers. In her first season in New York, she won attention-getting parts in back-to-back Broadway plays, a Tony Award nomination, and two roles in Shakespeare in the Park productions. Even then, people said, “Her. Again.”

Her Again is an intimate look at the artistic coming-of-age of the greatest actress of her generation, from the homecoming float at her suburban New Jersey high school, through her early days on the stage at Vassar College and the Yale School of Drama during its golden years, to her star-making roles in The Deer Hunter, Manhattan, and Kramer vs. Kramer. New Yorker contributor Michael Schulman brings into focus Meryl’s heady rise to stardom on the New York stage; her passionate, tragically short-lived love affair with fellow actor John Cazale; her marriage to sculptor Don Gummer; and her evolution as a young woman of the 1970s wrestling with changing ideas of feminism, marriage, love, and sacrifice.

Featuring eight pages of black-and-white photos, this captivating story of the making of one of the most revered artistic careers of our time reveals a gifted young woman coming into her extraordinary talents at a time of immense transformation, offering a rare glimpse into the life of the actress long before she became an icon.”

This book made watching Kramer vs. Kramer almost unbearably emotional (see my review of that tomorrow for more) and I think it’s always nice to be able to get a more thorough picture of a good movie.

As the synopsis says, this book doesn’t cover her whole career (or her childhood).  It’s basically a little of high school, a lot more of college and then her career through Kramer vs. Kramer.  Because of that, we get a really in-depth portrayal of Meryl Streep right as she’s on the cusp of becoming MERYL STREEP.

I’m not sure if this book is for everyone, but if you’re a fan of hers (and who isn’t, really? She’s a phenomenal actress and I don’t think many would argue that she’s the best actress working today) it’s required reading.

Recommended.

Crush

Finished Crush, edited by Cathy Alter and Dave Singleton.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A star-studded collection of essays from acclaimed and bestselling authors and celebrities that illuminates the lasting power of desire and longing, and celebrates our initiation into the euphoria, pain, and mystery that is our first celebrity crush.

You never forget your first crush . . .

CRUSH brings together stories of heartbreak, humiliation, and hilarity from a roster of popular luminaries, including James Franco, Carrie Fisher, Stephen King, Roxane Gay, Jodi Picoult, Emily Gould, and Hanna Rosin, who share intimate memories of that first intense taste of love. Here are funny, whimsical, sometimes cringe-worthy tales of falling head over heels for River Phoenix, Mary Tyler Moore, Howard Cosell, Jared Leto, and a host of other pop culture icons.

A few contributors channeled their devotion into obsessively writing embarrassing fan letters. Some taped pics in school lockers. Others decorated their bedroom walls with posters. For tweenaged Karin Tanabe, it was discovering bad boy Andy Garcia—playing the gun-loving mobster Vincent Corleone in The Godfather III. Barbara Graham unsuccessfully staked out an apartment on Park Avenue for a glimpse of her blue-eyed soulmate, Paul Newman. There was only one puppy for six-year-old Jodi Picoult—Donny Osmond—while Jamie Brisick’s pre-teen addiction was Speed Racer.

Swoon-worthy and unforgettable, the essays in CRUSH will leave you laughing, make you cry, and keep you enthralled—just like your first celebrity crush.”

We all know about crushes, right? And for most of us, our first crush was on a celebrity.  They’re cute and unattainable, and so perfectly safe, right?

This is such a fun (and sweet) collection although I will admit to being a little alarmed at how many people had crushes on Donny Osmond and boys from The Partridge Family.

Still, it’s something that everyone can relate to, and I was happy to see so many of my favorites in the same essay collection.

Sam Maloof: 36 Views of a Master Woodworker

Finished Sam Maloof: 36 Views of a Master Woodworker by Fred Setterberg.  I received a copy for review.

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Summary (from Goodreads):

One of the great masters of midcentury modernism in furniture Maloof pieces are in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and other prominent museums.”

This is not the kind of book I generally read.  AT ALL.  But a friend recommended it, and then it showed up.  I figured I’d give it a chapter or two and do my best—and this book is absolutely fascinating.  Thirty-six people discuss Sam Maloof and his work, and it’s such an amazing tribute to Maloof.

I never really think of furniture as art, but look at the chairs on the cover.  It looks like it would be incredibly comfortable but it also looks like something that would make your home look better.

The chapters also showed who Sam Maloof was as a person, and he seems like a boss most of us would love to have.  He took his work seriously and demanded everyone around him do the same, but he also was willing to help people along and to see their ideas.

This is a completely different read and one that’s worth leaving your comfort zone for.

All Better Now

Finished All Better Now by Emily Wing Smith.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

I ask myself: how am I living still?
And how I ask it depends on the day.

All her life, Emily has felt different from other kids. Between therapist visits, sudden uncontrollable bursts of anger, and unexplained episodes of dizziness and loss of coordination, things have always felt not right. For years, her only escape was through the stories she’d craft about herself and the world around her. But it isn’t until a near-fatal accident when she’s twelve years old that Emily and her family discover the truth: a grapefruit sized benign brain tumor at the base of her skull.

In turns candid, angry, and beautiful, Emily Wing Smith’s captivating memoir chronicles her struggles with both mental and physical disabilities during her childhood, the devastating accident that may have saved her life, and the means by which she coped with it all: writing.”

I’m keeping this intentionally vague so I don’t spoil anything. I get that that’s a weird thing for a memoir, but trust me—you don’t want to know anything going in.

This is such an interesting memoir.  I’d read and enjoyed Emily Wing Smith’s YA novels and I absolutely admire her.  It would be so easy for her to be negative, but this book was overwhelmingly positive and even funny.

(It probably helps that awkward and quiet are my people.)

It’s also pretty fantastic to see her find her friends.  I wish it had gone on a little farther and shared her path to publication and her inspiration, but maybe that means that there will be a sequel? Please say yes.

Recommended.

How to Be Here

Finished How to Be Here by Rob Bell.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The popular pastor and New York Times bestselling author of Love Wins and What We Talk About When We Talk About God shows us how to pursue and realize our dreams, live in the moment, and joyfully do the things that make us come alive.

Each of us was created for something great—we just need to figure out what it is and find the courage to do it. Whether it’s writing the next great American novel, starting a business, or joining a band, Rob Bell wants to help us make those dreams become reality. Our path is ours and ours alone to pursue, he reminds us, and in doing so, we derive great joy because we are living our passions.

How to Be Here lays out concrete steps we can use to define and follow our dreams, interweaving engaging stories, lessons from biblical figures, insights gleaned from Rob’s personal experience, and practical advice. Rob gives you the support and insight you need to silence your critics, move from idea to action, take the first step, find joy in the work, persevere through hard times, and surrender to the outcome.

Like Stephen Pressfield’s classic The War of Art, How to Be Here will inspire readers to seek the lives they were created to lead.”

I read this book at the exact perfect time.

The idea behind this book is the idea that we are all meant for something.  There are parts on how to find meaningful work but the idea I found most interesting/helpful is the tip that maybe we’re not supposed to find our meaning in our jobs.  Sometimes our actual purpose is to work in a job that we don’t love but that leaves us time for our hobbies, which is where we find actual fulfillment.

I always struggle with the question of whether other people love their jobs.  It always seems like everyone else is much happier/more creatively fulfilled/making more money than I am.  I’m not sure if a raise would help, but it couldn’t hurt.  I find meaning in making sure other people know what’s going on in the world, but I’m not sure I’d say that it’s what drives me.  So maybe it’s okay that this is not my actual purpose.

Recommended.

What We Talk About When We Talk About God

Finished What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Rob Bell.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Rob Bell’s bestselling book Love Wins struck a powerful chord with a new generation of Christians who are asking the questions church leaders have been afraid to touch. His new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, will continue down this path, helping us with the ultimate big-picture issue: how do we know God? Love Wins was a Sunday Times bestseller that created a media storm, launching Bell as a national religious voice who is reinvigorating what it means to be religious and a Christian today. He is one of the most influential voices in the Christian world, and now his new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, is poised to blow open the doors on how we understand God. Bell believes we need to drop our primitive, tribal views of God and instead understand the God who wants us to become who we were designed to be, a God who created a universe of quarks and quantum string dynamics, but who also gives meaning to why new-born babies and stories of heroes and sacrifice inspire in us a deep reverence. What We Talk About When We Talk About God will reveal that God is not in need of repair to catch him up with today’s world so much as we need to discover the God who goes before us and beckons us forward. A book full of mystery, controversy, and reverence, What We Talk About When We Talk About God has fans and critics alike anxiously awaiting, and promises not to disappoint.

Odds are pretty good that this review isn’t necessary; you already know whether you want to read this book or not.  For me, I’ve been feeling a bit at loose ends, and I remembered that I had bought this and never read it (and, since Rob Bell is always pretty inspiring to me, I hoped that maybe it would work some magic).

There are a lot of good points to take away from this book, but the one that resonated with me the most is the idea that we all view God differently (which is obvious, right? Because I know my concept of God is a lot different than, say, the idea that the Westboro Baptist Church people seem to have) and the idea that God meets us where we are and then drags us forward, into better versions of ourselves.  And how awesome is that? That we don’t have to become better; we are good enough as we are (and then use gratitude for that to become better).

Recommended.

Brave Enough

Finished Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the best-selling author of Wild, a collection of quotes–drawn from the wide range of her writings–that capture her wisdom, courage, and outspoken humor, presented in a gift-sized package that’s as irresistible to give as it is to receive.

Around the world, thousands of people have found inspiration in the words of Cheryl Strayed, who in her three prior books and in her Dear Sugar columns has shared the twists and trials of her remarkable life. Her honesty, spirit, and ample supply of tough love have enabled many of us, even in the darkest hours, to somehow put one foot in front of the other–and be brave enough.

This book gathers, each on a single page, more than 100 of Strayed’s indelible quotes and thoughts–“mini instruction manuals for the soul” that urge us toward the incredible capacity for love, compassion, forgiveness, and endurance that is within us all.

Be brave enough to break your own heart.

You can’t ride to the fair unless you get on the pony.

Keep walking.

Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

Romantic love is not a competitive sport.

Forward is the direction of real life.

Ask yourself: “What is the best I can do?” And then do that.”

As the synopsis tells you, this is a book of quotes from Cheryl Strayed’s other books (Torch, Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things).  From any other author, this would irritate me beyond measure; from Cheryl Strayed, it feels like a gift.

I’ve only read this and Tiny Beautiful Things, but her words manage to fix me and break me and this was basically a very concentrated version of that.

If you haven’t read Cheryl Strayed, you should.  I would recommend starting with Tiny Beautiful Things, which is absolutely perfect.

This is wonderful if you need a small dose of inspiration.

Highly recommended.

The Borden Murders

Finished The Borden Murders by Sarah Miller.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Here’s middle-grade nonfiction that reads like a thriller. With murder, court battles, and sensational newspaper headlines, the story of Lizzie Borden is compulsively readable and perfect for the Common Core.

Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.

In a compelling, linear narrative, Miller takes readers along as she investigates a brutal crime: the August 4, 1892, murders of wealthy and prominent Andrew and Abby Borden. The accused? Mild-mannered and highly respected Lizzie Borden, daughter of Andrew and stepdaughter of Abby. Most of what is known about Lizzie’s arrest and subsequent trial (and acquittal) comes from sensationalized newspaper reports; as Miller sorts fact from fiction, and as a legal battle gets under way, a gripping portrait of a woman and a town emerges.

With inserts featuring period photos and newspaper clippings—and, yes, images from the murder scene—readers will devour this nonfiction book that reads like fiction.”

I don’t read very much nonfiction and this book makes me want to change that.

Everyone’s heard of Lizzie Borden, right? The girl who took an ax and murdered her parents?

Well…not really.

For one thing, Lizzie was found not guilty of those crimes.  And for another, no one got the “40 whacks.”

And also, it’s still unknown exactly who killed the Bordens.  No one else was ever charged and, like I said, Lizzie was found not guilty.

Even weirder, she stayed in her hometown and was basically shunned by pretty much everyone for years.  And for a little while, she stayed in the house.  (She did move, but not right away.)

If you’re into true crime novels (or court cases), this is absolutely the book for you.  And even if you’re not, this is an interesting and compelling read.

Hillary Rodham Clinton: Do All the Good You Can

Finished Hillary Rodham Clinton: Do All the Good You Can by Cynthia Levinson. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

An inspiring and meticulously researched middle grade biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton—First Lady, senator, secretary of state, and Democratic candidate for president in 2016.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is a true leader. Growing up in Park Ridge, Illinois, Hillary was inspired by the philosophy of John Wesley, who urged his followers to “do all the good you can.” Rising to prominence in 1992 as the First Lady of the United States, Hillary captured the world’s attention with her bold ideas and political forcefulness.

From her time at Wellesley to her life at the White House and beyond, Hillary has been at the forefront of huge change—and despite setbacks and political scandals, she has worked for good in the world.

Acclaimed author Cynthia Levinson creates a compelling and personal portrait of Hillary’s historic journey from her childhood to her service as secretary of state and beyond. Includes a timeline of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s life and an eight-page photo insert.”

The first thing you should know about this is that it’s very pro-Hillary Clinton.  (As a liberal, this doesn’t bother me at all, but if you are looking for a neutral portrait, this is not for you.)

I enjoyed this and there were a lot of things about Hillary I didn’t know.  (Like basically anything about her childhood.)  Also, I was 12 when Bill Clinton was elected president and I didn’t really develop a political interest until I was older, so I was really only dimly aware of her as first lady until his second term.

It’s funny now the controversy that she caused for doing things like wanting to work and be the first lady of Arkansas and for not taking her husband’s last name. (And honestly, I want to give her a high five for both those things—although now, of course, she’s Hillary Clinton and not Hillary Rodham.  And there’s nothing wrong with compromise, so a high five for that, too.)

I haven’t decided who I’m voting for for president, but this book made me like Hillary more than I did before.  (And honestly, I liked her before.)

If you like badass women who get shit done, read this book.  (Note: it’s written for young adult audiences.)