Category Archives: Nonfiction

Notorious RBG

Finished Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Khizhnik.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

You can’t spell truth without Ruth.
Only Ruth Bader Ginsburg can judge me.
The Ruth will set you free.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame—she was just trying to make the world a little better and a little freer. But along the way, the feminist pioneer’s searing dissents and steely strength have inspired millions. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, created by the young lawyer who began the Internet sensation and an award-winning journalist, takes you behind the myth for an intimate, irreverent look at the justice’s life and work. As America struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stays fierce. And if you don’t know, now you know.”

I knew before I read this book that I liked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  But I wasn’t very familiar with her before she became a justice on the Supreme Court.  (Given her age and the fact that she was only the second female justice—and the fact that there have only been four—I knew she was a trailblazer, but I didn’t understand just how amazing her life has been.)

The book includes excerpts of opinions she’s written and has  a lot of pictures, but the real joy (for me) is in learning more about her personal life.  Her marriage to Marty GInsburg is an actual inspiration and if I could find a lady like Marty (or like Ruth, that’d be pretty awesome, too), I’d be incredibly lucky.  Their marriage was fantastic and I love the fact that they each didn’t seem to have an ego where the other was concerned.  Neither of them felt the need to be the one in charge.  (I also love the fact that Marty pitched in at home while Ruth was working.  It seems like that’s still rare now, so you can imagine how rare it was decades ago.)

If you need or want to know more about “Notorious RBG,” this is the book for you.

Highly recommended.

10% Happier

Finished 10% Happier by Dan Harris.

Summary (from Goodreads):

After having a nationally televised panic attack on Good Morning America, Dan Harris knew he had to make some changes. After learning about research that suggests meditation can do everything from lower your blood pressure to essentially rewire your brain, Harris took a deep dive into the underreported world of CEOs, scientists, and even marines who are now using it for increased calm, focus, and happiness. “10% Happier” takes readers on a ride from the outer reaches of neuroscience to the inner sanctum of network news to the bizarre fringes of America’s spiritual scene, and leaves them with a takeaway that could actually change their lives.”

I didn’t know when I bought this that it’s basically about how meditation can be incredibly helpful.  (This turns out to be a good thing, because I’m not sure that I would’ve bought it if I had known.)

I tend to lump meditation in with things like acupuncture…it may work for you, but I’m probably not trying it.  (Except now I kind of want to; there are apparently studies that prove that meditating regularly can lower your stress, which makes sense, but also lower your risk of heart disease and even cancer.)

Dan Harris spends a lot of the book talking about himself and you will either love that or hate it.  (It worked really well for me; when I read nonfiction, I want it to seem like a novel, because I want people I can root for. Please don’t give me things like statistics and studies; I need people.)

Best of all, 10% Happier actually provides different ways to meditate.  (Yes, there’s more than one way.  And probably at least one of those ways would work for me.)

So yes, possibly I will try it.  (Another reason is the fact that when a coworker kind of teases him about meditating, he says, “It makes me 10% happier.*”  And that seems really attainable, right?  And it sounds interesting that a simple thing—relatively speaking—could make you 10% happier.)

* = Hence the title!


Why Not Me?

Finished Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the author of the beloved New York Times bestselling book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and the creator and star of The Mindy Project comes a collection of essays that are as hilarious and insightful as they are deeply personal.

In Why Not Me?, Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it’s falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you’re constantly reminded that no one looks like you.

In “How to Look Spectacular: A Starlet’s Confessions,” Kaling gives her tongue-in-cheek secrets for surefire on-camera beauty, (“Your natural hair color may be appropriate for your skin tone, but this isn’t the land of appropriate–this is Hollywood, baby. Out here, a dark-skinned woman’s traditional hair color is honey blonde.”) “Player” tells the story of Kaling being seduced and dumped by a female friend in L.A. (“I had been replaced by a younger model. And now they had matching bangs.”) In “Unlikely Leading Lady,” she muses on America’s fixation with the weight of actresses, (“Most women we see onscreen are either so thin that they’re walking clavicles or so huge that their only scenes involve them breaking furniture.”) And in “Soup Snakes,” Kaling spills some secrets on her relationship with her ex-boyfriend and close friend, B.J. Novak (“I will freely admit: my relationship with B.J. Novak is weird as hell.”)

Mindy turns the anxieties, the glamour, and the celebrations of her second coming-of-age into a laugh-out-loud funny collection of essays that anyone who’s ever been at a turning point in their life or career can relate to. And those who’ve never been at a turning point can skip to the parts where she talks about meeting Bradley Cooper.”

If you are a fan of Mindy Kaling, you need to read this book.  (If you aren’t a fan, examine your life choices.)

Mindy Kaling is probably pretty much my imaginary best friend.  And, like her earlier book (and books by Amy Poehler and Tina Fey), come for the laugh-out-loud parts and stay for the chunks of wisdom (all through this book but especially in the last essay, “Why Not Me?”).

Basically all I got accomplished today was read this book.  (And I watched the season four premiere of her show, The Mindy Project.)  It was a really good day and I regret nothing.

If you’re a fan of The Office or The Mindy Project, there is a lot here to enjoy, but even beyond that, Mindy Kaling’s outlook on life is pretty freaking awesome.  (I could probably quote the entire book, but that would get pretty tedious for both of us, so just buy it and read it already.)

The only downside to this book is the fact that now I probably need to wait years for another one.

Highly recommended.

Between the World and Me

Finished Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.”

I read this for book club, and found out about it because people were discussing it while I was reading Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.  Some blogger friends of mine were saying that their experience reading this was going to make it much harder for them to read that book.

This is such an incredibly powerful book but as a warning, there were times for me reading this that I became really defensive.  (At every time that happened, I was able to remind myself that my job as a white person and an ally—or aspiring ally; based on my occasional reactions to this, I’m not 100% there yet—is to shut up and bear witness and that every instance where my reaction is to be, “But wait, not everyone…!” proves that we all still have a long way to go.)

Ta-Nehisi Coates is clearly brilliant, and his arguments are reasoned out.  This is such an important book, and I hope everyone will read it.

Highly recommended.

365 Days of Wonder

Finished 365 Days of Wonder by RJ Palacio.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In the #1 New York Times bestselling novel Wonder, readers were introduced to memorable English teacher Mr. Browne and his love of precepts. Simply put, precepts are principles to live by, and Mr. Browne has compiled 365 of them—one for each day of the year—drawn from popular songs to children’s books to inscriptions on Egyptian tombstones to fortune cookies. His selections celebrate kindness, hopefulness, the goodness of human beings, the strength of people’s hearts, and the power of people’s wills. Interspersed with the precepts are letters and emails from characters who appeared in Wonder. Readers hear from Summer, Jack, Charlotte, Julian, and Amos.

There’s something for everyone here, with words of wisdom from such noteworthy people as Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr., Confucius, Goethe, Sappho—and over 100 readers of Wonder who sent R. J. Palacio their own precepts.”

I love this book and it appealed to me for the same reasons that Postsecret does: these sentences and thoughts all affect me.  Some are applicable to my life now and some aren’t but they’re all worth thinking about.

For people who aren’t sure this is something they’d enjoy, each month is also bookended by thoughts from Mr. Browne (the teacher from Wonder who solicited these precepts).  There are also notes from students in those chapters (including Auggie, the hero from Wonder).

This book is a fun stocking stuffer, especially if you pair it with Wonder.  I read that when it first came out and this makes me really want to re-read it.


Finished Guns by Stephen King.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In a pulls-no-punches essay intended to provoke rational discussion, Stephen King sets down his thoughts about gun violence in America. Anger and grief in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School are palpable in this urgent piece of writing, but no less remarkable are King’s keen thoughtfulness and composure as he explores the contours of the gun-control issue and constructs his argument for what can and should be done.”

You probably already know whether you want to read this, based on your political affiliation and Stephen King’s.  If you’re a conservative, you probably should read it, but you won’t want to.  If you’re a liberal (as I am), it’s probably not necessary to read it because you already agree with it…but it’s still worth the read.

One thing you should know is that Stephen King owns guns.  (Which makes sense, given that he’s incredibly famous and that there are a lot of crazy people in the world.)  He’s not advocating for the government to take everyone’s guns; he’s proposing sensible changes (better background checks and delays; fewer rounds, things like that).

I don’t understand how people can say that guns aren’t at least partially to blame for these tragedies that keep occurring.  Even making people wait a couple days to be able to buy a gun could theoretically be able to put a stop to things.  (It’s easier to do horrible things in the heat of the moment and sometimes even a little time to stop and think is enough.  Obviously that wouldn’t stop all of them, but it certainly would stop a few.)



BEA Goals

So, BEA is next week.  (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

I haven’t talked about it as much this year, but I am insanely excited.  The best part is that this is the first time one of my authors will be signing, so I will be helping with that.

I’ve also done my best to really scale back on what I’m going for.  I am so behind with books anyway, and the idea of coming home with a ton more—while exciting—is a little overwhelming.

SO, here at the 10 books I’m most excited to get.

1)  HELLO? by Liza Wiemer.  This is my author’s book, and I’ve already read it.  It’s amazing, and I am excited to have my VERY OWN COPY, signed to me.

2)  The Killing Kind by Chris Holm.  I’m a huge fan of his and this book sounds AMAZING.

3)  Tonight the Streets are Ours by Leila Sales.  Love her; need this.

4)  Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray.  I have been waiting what seems like 65 years for this; it’s the sequel to The Diviners.

5)  Truly Madly Famously by Rebecca Serle.  Famous in Love was one of the best books I got at BEA last year, and I need this book SO MUCH.  #TeamRainer

6)  Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.  I’m using a line jump to get this.  I don’t know much about it, but it was compared to Ocean’s 11.  I’m in.

7)  Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling.  This will be my last get at BEA; I look forward to flailing all over her.

8)  These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly.  I’m in the mood for something creepy and this sounds perfect.

9)  Infinite In Between by Carolyn Mackler.  Compared to The Breakfast Club, so I’m in.

10)  My Secret to Tell by Natalie D. Richards.  I am a huge fan of hers and I’m so psyched for this.

Shirley, I Jest

Finished Shirley, I Jest by Cindy Williams.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Cindy Williams, best-known as half of the comedic duo of Laverne & Shirley, has had a wild and lively career in show biz. After spending years waiting tables, she landed her first big break with a role in American Graffiti as Ron Howard’s long-suffering girlfriend. This book is an engaging and heartfelt journey from Williams’s blue collar roots to her unexpected stardom—from being pranked by Jim Morrison at the Whisky a Go Go to the emotional rollercoaster of celebrity.”

Shirley, I Jest is basically a who’s who of famous people from the last few years.  While a large chunk of the book is devoted to Cindy Williams’ time on Laverne & Shirley, there are also some stories from American Graffiti and The Conversation, plus information on her brief encounters with Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and Cary Grant (!!!!!!!).  Like some other celebrity books I’ve read recently, this also doesn’t really get into salacious gossip.  It’s more like examples of famous people I like being decent people.  (This makes me really happy; I don’t want to live in a world where celebs I like turn out to be horrible.)

This book is also an incredibly fast read—partially because it’s about 200 pages, including pictures, but mostly because it reads like Cindy Williams is just talking to the reader, sharing stories and conversations.

This is easily my favorite celebrity memoir.  It’s incredibly short (unfortunately) but thorough, and I hope there will be another volume at some point.

Highly recommended.



Girl in the Dark

Finished Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A gorgeous memoir of an unthinkable life: a young woman writes of the sensitivity to light that has forced her to live in darkness, and of the love that has saved her.

“Something is afoot within me that I do not understand, the breaking of a contract that I thought could not be broken, a slow perverting of my substance.”

Anna was living a normal life. She was ambitious and worked hard; she had just bought an apartment; she was falling in love. But then she started to develop worrying symptoms: her face felt like it was burning whenever she was in front of the computer. Soon this progressed to an intolerance of fluorescent light, then of sunlight itself. The reaction soon spread to her entire body. Now, when her symptoms are at their worst, she must spend months on end in a blacked-out room, losing herself in audio books and elaborate word games in an attempt to ward off despair. During periods of relative remission she can venture cautiously out at dawn and dusk, into a world that, from the perspective of her normally cloistered existence, is filled with remarkable beauty.

And throughout there is her relationship with Pete. In many ways he is Anna’s savior, offering her shelter from the light in his home. But she cannot enjoy a normal life with him, cannot go out in the day, and even making love is uniquely awkward. Anna asks herself “By continuing to occupy this lovely man while giving him neither children nor a public companion nor a welcoming home—do I do wrong?” With gorgeous, lyrical prose, Anna brings us into the dark with her, a place from which we emerge to see love, and the world, anew.”

This is such a scary story, because it’s so easy to think about what would happen if you started to experience these symptoms.  (And Anna experienced no symptoms whatsoever until all of a sudden fluorescent lights started to make her face feel like it was burning.  And then all light started to cause a problem.  And then all she could do was sit in absolute darkness for months.)

I can’t even imagine.  (Also, for added stress, picture how hard it is to actually be in pitch black darkness.)

Also, props to Anna, because she comes up with ways to stay occupied.  Because TV and books (electronic or otherwise are out), she plays a lot of mental games and listens to audiobooks.  And she is dating the world’s best guy, Pete, who carries a lot of the slack.

This is such an interesting story, and I hope there’s eventually a followup.  I hope we eventually learn what caused this and that she eventually gets cured.

Dead Wake

Finished Dead Wake by Erik Larson.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds” and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship–the fastest then in service–could outrun any threat.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small–hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more–all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.”

As you know, I don’t read very much nonfiction, but I’d heard very good things about Erik Larson and I jumped at the chance to read this book.

As he noted himself in the epilogue, there are a lot of misperceptions about the Lusitania and its deliberate sinking at the hands of the Germans during World War I.  I also thought that it was one of the immediate causes of our entering the war (although it took two more years, in reality).

One of the chilling things I learned while reading this was just how many times this was almost averted.  Depending on your perspective, everything went wrong (or right), and it led to this happening.  If weather conditions earlier had been different, or if a few incredibly small things had happened differently, the Lusitania never would have been torpedoed.

It’s incredibly sad to think about how many things had to come together perfectly to enable this.

I look forward to reading more of his books.