Sunday, December 31, 2017

Year-End Roundup, 2017

This post includes the books that I read in December, plus a few that I forgot to write about from earlier this fall. I just realized that the four non-fiction books that I read in December were all humorous. This is how I'm avoiding all the year-end news wrap-ups!

I really enjoyed this memoir by David Litt, one of President Obama's speechwriters. Litt writes about how he got involved in the Obama campaign and administration; I particularly enjoyed how he contributed to some of the funnier moments, such as  White House Correspondent's dinner jokes. For a fun perspective and insights on what it was like working in the Obama administration, I recommend this book.

This is a funny but incredibly raunchy memoir by Amy Schumer, comedian and actor (in Trainwreck and Snatched). I'd never watched any of her shows or other performances, so her comedy was unfamiliar to me. Entertaining and sometimes a little sad, raunchy and fairly gross at times. Definitely not for everyone!

Waiting for my flight from Pittsburgh to Albany earlier this month, I purchased this book (and the next) to read in the airport and on the short flight to Albany. Very funny!

As a follow-up to the previous book, this one also includes many gems by the author's father. These are both short (under 200 pages) and a great way to pass a few hours in the airport.

And now the fiction. The first three were our most recent book club picks:

I really liked this novel about a group of family and friends set in North Carolina. Ava's marriage is falling apart, and she's mourning the child that she can't seem to conceive. Ava's mother Sylvia is mourning the absence of her son, and has befriended a man in prison who dialed her phone number randomly just to talk to someone. JJ, a local boy who left the town and became a successful businessman, has returned home to see if he can rekindle his long-ago romance with Ava. This is an excellent first novel that I found completely engrossing.

I loved this novel set in in a remote village in Wales during WWII. Told from multiple characters' viewpoints, it's the story of a German prisoner, Karsten, placed in a POW camp in Wales. Esther is a local girl who befriends Karsten when he escapes temporarily from the camp. Jim is an evacuee who's housed on Esther's father's sheep farm. Rotheram is a German exile who's working with British intelligence. He interviews Rudolph Hess to determine whether he's fit for trial, and is sent to interview the POWs as well. This book is very well-written and tells a fascinating story about an aspect of WWII that is perhaps less well-known.

This is a mystery written by a local author (from Glens Falls, NY). Author Kate White worked in magazine publishing for years (including serving as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan) before she turned to writing mysteries. This book is completely implausible, but fun.

It's been years since I've read a Sara Paretsky V.I. Warshawski mystery. I liked this more than I expected. In her earlier books I found V.I. so caustic that she was a little off-putting as a character. In this book she was much less obnoxious, but still assertive and persistent. I enjoyed the story and characters, and found the writing very good; it's a real page-turner.

It's pretty rare that I take a real dislike to a book, but here are two that I really didn't like:

This is a historical novel about a woman in Tennessee who took it upon herself to re-bury more than a thousand confederate soldiers after a neighbor decided to plow them under so that he could plant crops on the field where they were originally buried. It's told from multiple viewpoints, but it just dragged on and I had to literally force myself to finish it. I'm glad that I learned about the Battle of Franklin and this episode of the Civil War, but this is a rare case of historical fiction being less interesting or entertaining than reading the history itself.

I thought I'd like this book, an Oprah pick and one set in rural Pennsylvania by a local Pennsylvania author. But I just hated it. I forced myself to finish thinking it might have some redeeming qualities, but it just rubbed me the wrong way. I didn't like the characters and I didn't like the plot. I have a hard time understanding why it would have been an Oprah pick.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Latest books, December 3, 2017

 This is a fascinating look at the history of humans, from our origins in the distant past to today. Author Yuval Noah Harari, a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, discusses what he describes as the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, the unification of humankind, and the scientific revolution. Well-written and impossible to put down.

Rising sea levels are just one side effect of global warming. This book explores how the rising sea levels will affect all of the coastal communities around the world. Author Jeff Goodell is a writer for Rolling Stone magazine who has written about global change before. He shares his extensive research and reporting in this book. This is a compelling read and presents a convincing argument to move inland!

W. Kamau Bell was the closing speaker at a recent ALA conference. I only caught part of his presentation, but found him funny, thoughtful, and authentic. A comedian who also has a CNN series, United Shades of America, he shares many of his experiences with readers in this thought-provoking and heartfelt book. I really enjoyed this book and am looking for more to come from Mr. Bell.

I've been a big fan of Al Franken since I read his book Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. I saw Mr. Franken on a stage with Bill O'Reilly at the 2003 BookExpoAmerica conference in Los Angeles, a panel that was moderated by Molly Ivins. I enjoyed reading about how he made the decision to run for the Senate, his experiences campaigning, and his perspectives on recent political events. I was dismayed when I heard about the groping allegations, which became public on the same day that I was reading about how much he enjoyed going on the USO tours. Regardless of the outcome of the senate ethics inquiry, this is an interesting and well-written memoir.

I loved this novel about ancient Rome and Cicero's rise from Senator to Consul. Robert Harris' writing is very good; it's a real page turner. He brings history to life in a way that no history book can.

This is the first in a series of fantasy novels that follow the story of Merry Gentry, a member of the faerie royal family in the U.S., and also a detective. This is very fun, fast-moving, escapist fiction; just what's needed right now!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Good Daughter, by Karin Slaughter

The main character of this psychological thriller is a defense lawyer who takes on the case of a young girl who has committed a school shooting. It brings back long-ago memories of when she herself was the victim of a violent crime. At the same time she's trying to make amends with her estranged husband, an assistant district attorney. It's fast-paced, with well-developed characters.

Karin Slaughter. The Good Daughter. New York: William Morrow, 2017. 503 pages. ISBN 9780062430243.

The Last Mrs. Parrish, by Liv Constantine

The Last Mrs. Parrish is written by a sister duo, Lynne and Valerie Constantine, who write under the pseudonym Liv Constantine. It's a slightly trashy thriller that tells the story of a young woman named Amber Patterson who's determined to steal the life of another woman, Daphne Parrish, who's got what seems like the perfect life. She's married to a wealthy businessman, lives in a beautiful house, and has two young daughters. Amber begins to insert herself into their lives, and everything seems to be going according to plan. Little does she know that she may have been the one being played all along. This was a quick read, so it's good for pure escapism, but it's so implausible and (I'm sorry to say) slightly obvious and predictable, that I can't really recommend it. Stick with something that has a little more substance.

Live Constantine. The Last Mrs. Parrish. New York: HarperCollins, 2017. 392 pages. ISBN 9780062667571. Advance Reader's Edition.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, by Kory Stamper

I loved this book about how dictionaries are created. Author Kory Stamper has worked at Merriam-Webster since 1998 and she has written a tell-all about the challenges and controversies involved in creating a modern, up-to-date dictionary. Written in clear and lively prose, this book takes both a serious and humorous look at how dictionaries are made. This is also a personal story about Ms. Stamper and her love of language. I should say languages, though, because to be a lexicographer, you have to have a good sense of the other languages that are the building blocks of English, like French and Latin.

Whether dictionaries should be descriptive or prescriptive is one of the questions that Stamper addresses. While that might have been decided already, there are still many who believe they should be prescriptive, that is, telling readers how to use words, rather than descriptive, telling them how words are used. I can understand the viewpoint of the Prescriptivists, as I have my own pet peeve that I wish the dictionary could validate (reticent vs. reluctant), but in the end the Descriptivists win out. Language is always changing, and as use changes, what's acceptable eventually follows. Sometimes, as in the case of "irregardless," the dictionary notes its common usage but relies upon usage notes and the use of "nonstandard" to indicate its lack of correctness.

This book will be a fun, entertaining, and enlightening read for anyone who loves words, language, and grammar. It includes an index and a bibliography including several books that I'd like to read:
  • Simon Winchester. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.
  • Herbert Charles Morton. The Story of Webster's Third: Philip Gove’s controversial dictionary and its critics.
  • David Skinner. The Story of Ain't: America, its Language and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published.

Kory Stamper. Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. New York: Pantheon Books, 2017. 296 pages. ISBN 9781101870946.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Logical Family: a Memoir, by Armistead Maupin

Fans of Armistead Maupin will love this memoir. In it the author talks about his childhood in North Carolina with a very conservative father. He describes his grandmother who encouraged his artistic tendencies, including acting and writing. He writes about his navy service in Vietnam and Cambodia, his time working with Jesse Helms, and how he met President Nixon. Mr. Maupin describes his move to San Francisco where he worked as a reporter for the Associated Press for a time before he began his weekly fiction column that eventually became Tales of the City.

Mr. Maupin is unflinchingly honest, and the book is touching and funny throughout. He has a way of dropping names and hints which make the later revelations all the funnier. He talks candidly about his friendship with Rock Hudson, and acquaintances like Harvey Milk. He believes that people have a responsibility to be honest about their sexuality, and he doesn't regret "outing" Rock Hudson when it became known that Hudson was ill with AIDS. He writes about losing his virginity, coming out, and his relationships with his parents.

I really enjoyed this book. It was the August selection for my book club and it was a hit with all of us. Although the book doesn't come out until October, I was fortunate to receive several copies of the advance reading copy at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago. Anyone who likes Armistead Maupin or enjoys a good memoir would like it.

Armistead Maupin. Logical Family: a Memoir. New York: HarperCollins, 2017. 294 pages. ISBN 9780062391223.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency

The Gatekeepers is a fascinating look inside every White House from Nixon's administration through Obama's. Author Chris Whipple devotes a chapter to each president and his respective chiefs of staff. It's clear that the success of each administration hinged at least partly on how the Oval Office was managed, and much of that comes down to the organizational skills of, and authority granted to, the chiefs of staff. Presidents who tried to micromanage the Office's activities, with everyone reporting directly to him, had much more difficult times that those who had stronger chiefs. Chiefs who were able to stand up to the President when necessary were better able to steer him to sound decision making.

Filled with intriguing anecdotes, quotes, and interviews with key players, The Gatekeepers is a riveting look at recent history. The author touches on many of the most important events of the last 50 years, including the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Iran Hostage Crisis, the Cold War, the Iran-Contra Scandal, the first Gulf War, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, 9/11 and its aftermath, Obamacare, and much, much more. I found it particularly gripping given our current political climate. I wonder what today's events will look like when we look back in 20 or 30 years, and I wonder if it will be as distressing to recall as it is to live through it every day, with the horror show we see perpetually on television and in the papers.

I found The Gatekeepers hard to put down. It's well supported with robust bibliography and notes sections. Mr. Whipple's style is clear and his writing flows like a novel; I hope he continues to write popular history.

I received this book from Blogging for Books.

Chris Whipple. The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency. New York: Crown, 2017. 365 pages. ISBN 9780804138246.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor

My book club picked My Beloved World for our May read. Sonia Sotomayor had recently visited the University at Albany, although I was traveling at the time and unable to attend her presentation, held in our basketball arena to a sold-out crowd. I was eager to read her memoir as part of my effort to counter the horror of the daily news with affirming works by people who are worthy of admiration. After reading Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father, I was ready for another work that would remind me that principled and intelligent public servants do exist.

My Beloved World tells Ms. Sotomayor's life story from childhood through her first appointment as a judge. I loved reading about her family, both here in the U.S. and in Puerto Rico, as well as her academic challenges and achievements. She breezes pretty quickly through her years at Princeton and her time at Yale Law School, but I really appreciated learning how she would identify the best student and ask them for advice about how to be a better student. Post-graduation she worked as an Assistant District Attorney, then for a law firm, and volunteered for numerous positions in important advocacy organizations, in the process getting the right experience to be considered for a judge-ship.

This book is a thoughtful look back at Ms. Sotomayor's experiences growing up, going off to school, entering the workforce, and becoming a judge. She ends the book at the point that she becomes a judge; I can only hope that she's going to continue the story at a later time; hopefully she won't have to wait until she retires. My Beloved World is well-written, clear, and concise. Highly recommended!

Sonia Sotomayor. My Beloved World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 315 pages. ISBN 9780307594884.

June-August 2017

People of the Book tells the story of a famous book through the imagined clues left behind in its pages. A moth, a wine stain, and evidence of salt water on its pages reveal clues to its adventures, from its creation to its rescue during World War II and again during the siege on Sarajevo during the 1990s Balkan wars. It's a well-written and fascinating example of historical fiction; I look forward to reading more of Geraldine Brooks' work.

The Sparrow is a science fiction novel that explores philosophy and religion as its characters travel through space to encounter another civilization. As Father Emilio Sandoz, the sole survivor of an expedition to another planet, heals from his injuries, he slowly tells the story of what happened when they met intelligent beings that didn't quite meet their expectations and hopes. I loved this story and I'm eager to read the sequel, Children of God.

Author Sarah Schmidt became obsessed with the story of Lizzie Borden. A native of Melbourne, Australia, her interest was so great that she traveled to the U.S. to visit the Borden home and stay overnight. See What I Have Done explores the Borden tale through the viewpoints of Lizzie, her sister Emma, the maid Bridget, and a drifter named Benjamin (a fictional character). The characters and their voices are distinct and create a fascinating picture of what might have happened that day in 1892.

I've only read one Henning Mankell mystery: The Troubled Man, which is his last Kurt Wallander book. I wouldn't normally start a series at the end, but I had received an advanced reading copy at Book Expo America, so I gave it a shot. I found it a little bit sad and depressing, but maybe that's because he was wrapping up the series. Secrets in the Fire is a children's book based on the life of a young girl who lost her legs to a land mine. Along with its two sequels, Playing with Fire, and Shadow of the Leopard, it reveals the plight that so many regions of the world experience, not being safe in their own homeland due to conflict and war.

Peter Mayle's The Marseille Caper is a fun, fast-moving romp through Marseille. Sam Levitt, an amateur detective, is hired to help his client secure a contract to develop beachfront property in Marseille. Lots of action, adventure, good food, and wine drinking follow. Just what was needed for a post-semester break from reality.

I've set a goal to read all of the Jo Nesbo Harry Hole detective stories in order. I've enjoyed a few of his later books, but with Cockroaches his writing is nowhere near as good as in his later books. Perhaps it has something to do with the translation, because there are many phrases throughout that just don't ring true or make sense. My guess is that after he made it big his earlier books were translated into English, but the books weren't really all that good, and the translations were not the best. I will keep going with the series, however; at least I'll be able to track when he began to get really good.

Friday, June 2, 2017

May 2017 Reads

A good mystery set in Northern California. Matthew Lindstrom has been given a tip that his wife, missing for 14 years, is alive and well. He decides to confront her, only to find that she's gone missing again, and he's the logical suspect.
Can a classic car really be a portal to another dimension or planet? That seems to be what's at the center of this suspenseful novel. For decades the Pennsylvania State Police in a small town in Western Pennsylvania have monitored a Buick, conducting experiments and keeping it hidden away. What happens when someone decides it's gone on too long and decides to destroy it?
How have we allowed ourselves to get so busy that we don't have time to enjoy each day? We take on too much and can't say no. We allow our guilt and others' expectations to rule our lives and feel trapped in our overly-busy routines. This book explores this phenomenon and helps readers understand that there are other ways to live.
A short but compelling mystery set in a small town in Peru.

Them, by Nathan McCall

This 2007 novel is about tensions that arise when a traditionally African-American neighborhood in Atlanta succumbs to gentrification and young white couples begin to move in and change the character and culture of the neighborhood. Barlowe Reed is a 40-year old African-American man living in a rented home with his nephew Tyrone. Just as Barlowe begins to think about the possibility of purchasing the home he's renting, a young white couple buys the home next door. Sandy and Sean moved into the city neighborhood to live closer to their work in Atlanta, and they can't understand why they're not accepted or welcomed by the African-American residents of the "Old Fourth Ward."

Author Nathan McCall does a good job revealing the various viewpoints of each of the characters, although the only character with any real depth is Barlowe. It's easy to empathize with many of the characters; however, both sides of the issue demonstrate extremism is their positions. Some African-Americans want to keep all whites out of their neighborhood, and carry out vandalism against their property. Many of the new white residents exhibit a complete tone-deafness to their conversations and are intolerant of harmless neighborhood characters, such as Ricky, who picks through their trash, or the neighborhood drunks who take shortcuts through their yards. Both sides think of the other as "them." As I read this book, I kept thinking about how difficult it is for people to communicate. Fear keeps people from trying; when things go unsaid, they can be completely misinterpreted. At the very least we all need to try to talk to each other and really listen.

This is a well-written and engaging book; I couldn't put it down and read it in just about 24 hours (although I'm on vacation right now and that helped a bit). I would recommend this to anyone who likes contemporary fiction that takes on a challenging subject.

Nathan McCall. Them. New York: Atria Books, 2007. 339 pages. ISBN 9781416549154. Advance Reading Copy.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, by Sarah Knight

When I first saw this book I thought the author had written a manifesto against Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Organizing and Decluttering, which I reviewed on this blog in 2014. However, I was pleased to see that author Sarah Knight confessed to reading Ms. Kondo's book on tidying up and had actually applied many of the concepts. In fact, she was inspired to write this book about how to de-clutter your personal life and schedule, and to set priorities for what really matters to you. In this book, she writes about how to make the transition to being able to do what you want to do rather than doing what is expected of you.

Ms. Knight suggests that readers think about what is truly important to them. What do they really care about? She discusses work, friends, family, and more. Throughout the book she uses anecdotes from her own life to make her point, and she suggests exercises at the end of each chapter to help readers think about their own priorities. Overall, she provides a lot of food for thought and gives readers tools they can use in their own lives to help cut down on the overwhelming number of obligations that everyone takes on. She does all this with a strong dose of humor.

If I have any criticism of this book, it's the overuse of the work "f*ck." It's in every section title, many chapter titles, and peppered through almost every paragraph. I'm not a prude or afraid to use the word "f*ck," but it does get old after a while. In addition, she strains to use it in phrases where it's just not natural. I think the book would have been stronger if she had resisted the urge to use that word so frequently and limited it to just the title and a few other strategic uses. Nevertheless, this book has a lot of good advice in it, and I would recommend it for anyone who's interested in a humorous take on time management and taking control of your life.

Sarah Knight. The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don't Have with People You Don't Like Doing Things You Don't Want To Do. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015. 208 pages. ISBN 9780316270724.

Recent reads May 2017

In no particular order, here are some of my recent reads:

I loved this unconventional novel about Lincoln's young son Willie's death.

Charming, funny, sweet, and well written.

These should be called "Difficult stories." Very well-written stories about women and the challenges they face in their relationships.

I'm a fan of Jo Nesbo, but this first novel is a bit amateurish.

This novel has been getting a lot of good reviews, but I found it a bit predictable.

I really enjoyed this novel about family and relationships.

All about the reading brain; very interesting if you're interested in brain science and how the brain has evolved to read.

This is a great antidote to today's politics. Thoughtful and well written. I have to read more like this!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Future humans, by Scott Solomon

In this fascinating look at how humans continue to evolve, evolutionary biologist Scott Solomon explains the ways in which humans are still adapting through evolution to changes in their environment. Writing in a style that is clear and straightforward, he makes difficult concepts easy to understand.
Mapping the human genome has allowed researchers to study how evolution happened in the past. They've learned that microscopic organisms have been major drivers of evolution in humans, and it appears to be continuing today. Additionally, because humans are moving around the world in a way that never happened before the modern age, there is increasing genetic variation, which leads to evolutionary change. Even our changing diets, including higher calorie processed food and less fiber, may lead to changes in how we evolve.

It is clear that not only have we gotten where we are through the process of evolution, but that evolution is continuing all around us. I think this book would be of interest to anyone who enjoys popular science, especially the life sciences. It includes a robust notes section and an index.

Scott Solomon. Future Humans: Inside the Science of our Continuing Evolution. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. 225 pages. ISBN 9780300208719.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Wellth, by Jason Wachob

Author Jason Wachob is an entrepreneur and founder of mindbodygreen, a healthy lifestyle web site with articles such as "If you only have 2 minutes to meditate, do this" and "The best spring & summer overnight oat recipes on the internet." In Wellth: How to Build a Life, Not a Resume, he shares his own and others' stories to illustrate the principles that he believes will transform your life.

Through short chapters with titles such as Eat, Move, Work, Believe, Explore, Breathe, Feel, Love, Heal, Thank, Ground, Live, and Laugh, he describes his key points on how to be both physically and mentally healthy, and how to live a balanced lifestyle. Each chapter includes inspiring quotes from people as varied as Bill Maher and Shakespeare. Each chapter includes a section called "Grow Your Life Savings" that is written by an expert on the subject of that particular chapter. This is followed by a short section called "A Quick Deposit in Your Wellth Account," which lists four tips that sum up the chapter. Mr. Wachob uses anecdotes from his own life to share how he learned lessons in each of these areas. Wellth also includes an index and a notes and references section.

I personally enjoy reading books that provide tips on how to be healthy, whether through an improved diet, exercise, meditation, yoga, or other methods. Because I've read so many of these types of books, not to mention magazine and internet articles, this book didn't have much to teach me. That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it; in fact, I did. It's an easy read on a topic that I'm familiar with and enjoy reading about. I found one particular discussion interesting; this was the chapter on health (Heal), in which Mr. Wachob discusses how Eastern and Western medicine can complement each other. However, as with the rest of the book, the discussions are only introductory; for anything in depth, you'll have to investigate elsewhere. In this sense, the book reflects the author's web site, which provides short magazine-style articles. I enjoy reading them, but there's not a lot of substance. Nevertheless, for someone who's just beginning to think about these issues, I think this would be a good introductory book. It introduces the reader to many issues that are problems for people today; it has a friendly and easy style, and it's a quick read. For others who are already steeped in the healthy lifestyle literature, I recommend looking for something with more depth.

I received this book for review from Blogging for Books.

Jason Wachob. Wellth: How to Build a Life, not a Resume. New York: Harmony Books, 2016. 1st paperback edition. 244 pages. ISBN 9781101904503.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Acid Watcher Diet, by Jonathan Aviv

If you've suffered from heartburn or acid reflux, this book will teach you how to heal and prevent future episodes of either. Dr. Jonathan Aviv is the clinical director for the Voice and Swallowing Center of ENT and Allergy Associates as well as a clinical professor of otolaryngology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. With a clear and concise writing style, Dr. Aviv explains the causes of heartburn and acid reflux, and how to heal and prevent them.

The Acid Watcher Diet is composed of three part. The first addresses the various diseases caused by acid reflux. Esophageal cancer, caused by chronic heartburn and acid reflux, is given its own chapter. Inflammation caused by acid reflux can generate problems beyond the stomach and esophagus. In the second part, Dr. Aviv discusses diet, fiber, low versus high pH foods, and how to break dietary habits that promote acidity. Finally, a 28-day plan for healing is described, as well as follow up maintenance plans. This includes meal plans and recipes.

The 28-day plan will be difficult for many to achieve. It includes eliminating carbonated sodas, coffee and tea, citrus fruits, tomatoes, vinegar, wine, caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, mint, raw onion, and raw garlic. Dr. Aviv also recommends eliminating smoking, processed foods, and fried foods. He further recommends regular exercise, and predicts that anyone who eats his recommended diet will also likely lose weight.

I found Dr. Aviv's arguments entirely convincing and recommend The Acid Watcher Diet to anyone who suffers from heartburn, acid reflux, or similar ailments. I received this book from Blogging for Books.

Jonathan Aviv. The Acid Watcher Diet: A 28-Day Reflux Prevention and Healing Program. New York: Harmony Books, 2017. 293 pages. ISBN 9781101905586.

A Deadly Wandering, by Matt Richtel

A Deadly Wandering tells the story of a young man named Reggie Shaw who was texting while driving to work one morning. He was weaving from side to side on a highway in Utah, and eventually side-swiped a car going in the other direction, causing it to go into a spin. The spinning car crossed into the other lane and was T-boned by a truck pulling a trailer with tons of heavy equipment. The momentum of the crash killed the two men in the car instantly. Reggie was barely scratched.

Author Matt Richtel had previously investigated how texting and other distractions affect driving. In A Deadly Wandering he delves deeply into the research of attention as well as the growing public awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. At the time of the crash depicted in this book, only one state had outlawed texting while driving, but cases like this would bring about a rapid change in the laws across the country.

Mr. Richtel also tells Reggie's story. For more than a year he was in denial that his texting caused the crash. He denied texting at the time of the crash and it was only when it was proven through the cell carrier's phone records that he had been sending and receiving texts at the time of the crash that he took responsibility for his actions. Since then he has become an evangelist for driving safety and regularly speaks to young people about the dangers of driving and texting.

Withe A Deadly Wandering, Mr. Richtel brings together not only Reggie's story, but also those of the victims and their advocates who wanted only to find justice. Combined with the story of the neuroscientists who are investigating the impact of distraction on the human brain, this book is a warning for anyone who has been tempted to answer the phone or look at a text while driving.

Matt Richtel. A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention. New York: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2014. Advance Reader's Edition. 389 pages. ISBN 9780062284068.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Modern Way to Cook, by Anna Jones

A Modern Way to Cook is an excellent new cookbook that contains more than 150 vegetarian recipes, arranged by how long it takes to prepare them. I've had the book for a while but I wanted to write the review only after I've made a number of the recipes. I have to admit that with only one or two exceptions, I've stuck with the recipes that can be made in 15-30 minutes, but I've enjoyed all of them so much that I've made several of them many times over the past couple of months.

The author's descriptions of how to make many of the recipes have the cook getting all of the ingredients out, then quickly doing one thing after another. I think some of the recipes take me longer than she predicts, mainly because I keep going back to the recipes to make sure that I'm doing things right. Once a cook gets familiar enough with a recipe, I expect the times to be more accurate. One of the time-saving methods the author recommends is to always have a kettle on with boiling water. This shortens the time for soups to finish, for example.

The first recipe that I tried was a 15-minute recipe for kale, tomato, and lemon magic one-pot spaghetti. It called for adding pasta, cherry tomatoes, lemon zest, oil, and salt to a pan; then adding a quart of water. After everything cooks, you can add kale to cook for a few minutes, then finish everything with parmesan cheese. This was a wonderful dish, made unique by the lemon zest.

Another recipe that I liked a lot was green pea and coconut soup. It called for frozen peas, coconut milk, green onions, lemon juice, and vegetable stock. It was a very quick recipe, with the final step being to put the soup through a blender. Really wonderful. One recipe that I've made at least a dozen times now is called pour-over soup. Vegetables are sliced very thinly into a bowl along with miso paste, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, vermicelli, and more, then boiling water is poured over. It's like a flavorful salad in a bowl. The recipe calls for greens, zucchini, and snap peas, but I use whatever I have, including spinach, zucchini, tomatoes, onion, red or green pepper, mushrooms, etc. Easy to make and filling.

The avocado, tahini, and olive spread is wonderful, takes only a few minutes, and is great with pita chips. I served this at my last book club meeting and it got a thumbs up from the other members. The avocado, cucumber, and fennel soup was really good, although I made a double recipe and it made a lot. Even with lemon juice it discolored slightly, although the flavor was unaffected. Good for a summer lunch! One of my favorites was called a Sunday vat of soup, and includes a leek, red onion, carrots, celery, sweet potatoes, and a butternut squash. All of this gets cooked along with some spices and broth, then blended. The author shares a number of variations, including serving it with pumpkin seeds, or sour cream. It was great no matter how it was served.

Finally, the one dessert that I tried was tahini-drizzled superfruit. Any combination of fruit can be used. It should be sliced or cubed on a plate, then drizzled with a sauce made from tahini, honey, lemon, and cinnamon. I've made this a number of times over the last several months.

This is really a wonderful cookbook with recipes that I never would have thought up on my own. The author calls for a number of ingredients that were not formerly a typical item in my pantry, but that has now changed. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to try new recipes and enjoys vegetarian foods.

I received this book from Blogging for Books.

Anna Jones. A Modern Way to Cook: 150+ Vegetarian Recipes for Quick, Flavor-Packed Meals. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2015. 351 pages. ISBN 9780399578427.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Catching up on Non-Fiction: November 2016-January 2017

Faith Salie. Approval Junkie: Adventures in Caring Too Much. New York: Crown, 2016. 256 pages. ISBN 9780553419931.

Faith Salie was the emcee at one of the special events that I attended during the 2016 BookExpo America convention. She was one of the best emcees that I've seen there; she had read all of the books and had funny things to say about and to each of the other presenters. Her book is both humorous and heartfelt.

Adam Grant. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. New York: Viking, 2016. 322 pages. ISBN 9780399564192.

I really liked Adam Grant's Give and Take, which I reviewed here, but this book wasn't as interesting for me. It could be that I read it too soon after reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers (reviewed here), since they address some of the same themes. Nevertheless, it was entertaining and a quick read.

Lawrence Wright. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. New York: Vintage Books, 2013. 538 pages. ISBN 9780307745309.

This is a fascinating but frightening book about the history and development of Scientology as a religion. It's particularly interesting in our current political climate when we see how credulous people can be when they really want to believe something's true in spite of all evidence to the contrary. I recommend this well-written and deeply researched book.