Sunday, September 25, 2022

How to give up plastics, by Will McCallum


Written by Will McCallum, Head of Oceans at Greenpeace UK, this excellent resource reveals the impact that plastics have on our environment, particularly our waterways and oceans, and provides guidance for anyone interested in cutting back or eliminating plastic from their life.

The Tudors in love, by Sarah Gristwood

Review to come.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Stress pandemic: the lifestyle solution, by Paul Huljich


This is a useful plan to reduce stress and deal with its effects on the body and mind. Author Paul Huljich shares his own experience with mental illness and recovery, and relates how his nine steps helped him to largely eliminate stress from his life and heal himself. The appendices include helpful information about exercise, nutrition, and additional resources.

Friday, September 23, 2022

The art of non-conformity, by Chris Guillebeau


In the vein of the more well-known Timothy Ferris and his The four-hour work week, author Chris Guillebeau encourages readers to think differently about their work and personal lives. Guillebeau dropped out of high school and then completed college in record time. He volunteered in West Africa for four years and then continued on to graduate school. Since then he has worked as an entrepreneur with many projects in the works at once, including blogging, writing books, public speaking, and online sales. He travels widely (he has a goal of traveling to every country in the world), and shares strategies and tips for traveling cheaply. He provides an outline for a one-year substitute for graduate school that includes reading the Economist thoroughly; learning the names of every country, capital, and president/prime minister; traveling widely; reading the basic texts of every major religion; subscribing to a language-learning podcast; learning three new skills; reading 30 nonfiction and 20 classic books; joining Toastmasters; starting a blog; reading Wikipedia's daily random page; and listening to Grammar Girl podcasts. While this seems like a fun and ambitious project, it can't really substitute for the many graduate programs that teach people specific skills and knowledge for particular careers. While I applaud Guillebeau's success, most people will only be able to apply some of his advice to their own lives. Some might be inspired by his advice on traveling; others might be spurred on to quit their jobs or take on a side job that's more interesting and which will help them transition to a more free existence. Either way, this is a fun book to read; there's something here for everyone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Lenin for beginners, by A & Z


This is an interesting graphic novel presentation of the life of Lenin and the developments leading up to the 1917 Russian revolution. A and Z are Richard Appignanesi (author) and Oscar Zarate (artist). Published in 1977, this book serves as a good introduction to Lenin, and includes recommended reading at the end for those who want to explore further.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Artists and their pets, by Susie Hodge, illustrated by Violet Lemay


I enjoyed this children's introduction to artists and their relationships with their pets. Author Susie Hodge devotes 2-6 pages to each author, providing their biography and describing their love for animals. The illustrations are very good, although I was reading an advance reading copy and the illustrations were in black and white; the final version is published in full color. It's well written and would entice anyone to learn more about art and artists.

Drop dead healthy, by A.J. Jacobs


This is a funny take on America's obsession with health. Author A.J. Jacobs takes on one body part at a time, consulting with doctors, trainers, nutritionists, and more as he tries to become the healthiest man in the world. His two year quest did indeed give him better health and make him stronger, and he learned a lot in the meantime, although he may have driven his family crazy. Along with his journey to better health, he introduces us to his family, in particular his grandfather, who lived to 96, and his Aunt Marti, who is obsessed with avoiding the toxins surrounding all of us in the modern age of plastic and chemical pollutants.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Every day love: the delicate art of caring for each other, by Judy Ford


This is a thorough exploration of the relationships between spouses, partners, significant others, as well as between other family members, and how everyone can show their love better. Author Judy Ford is a licensed clinical social worker and counsels many couples on their relationships. She uses anecdotes to demonstrate the many ways that people hurt each other and provides advice about how to improve relationships. I enjoyed reading through her examples and lessons and think that pretty much everyone could benefit from her thoughtful insights. And I love the book cover!

Saturday, September 10, 2022

50 things to do when you turn 50, edited by Ronnie Sellers


This is a fun book to delve into. Experts provide suggestions for what readers should do when they turn 50. The book is organized in eight sections addressing your attitude, appearance, fitness, health, career, money, recreation, and spirituality. Many of the authors are well-known such as Garrison Keillor, Wendy Wasserstein, Billy Collins, Erica Jong, Diane von Furstenberg; others are less well-known but still experts in their fields. The essays are fun and inspiring.

One year to an organized life, by Regina Leeds


This is a useful guide to organizing every room in your house and other areas of your life such as holidays and travel. Author Regina Leeds gives excellent advice on how to manage all aspects of your life. The book is organized in 48 chapters that include activities and assignments addressing time management along with organization of the bedroom, bathroom, the attic and other "hidden" areas. Other chapters address moving, travel, back-to-school season, common rooms such as the dining and living areas, entertaining, and celebrating holidays. I found the chapter on travel particularly helpful, but there's something here for everyone.

The number, by Lee Eisenberg


This book is about identifying the amount of money that you need to have saved or invested so that you can retire at a standard of living that you desire. Author Lee Eisenberg points out that most people are reluctant to think about this, and he spends a lot of time illustrating this with anecdotes and examples. There's more in this book about the inability of most people to know what they will need to retire and less about how to actually identify that number or how to get to that number. This is an interesting look at this phenomenon, and it will definitely make readers think differently about how to plan, but it doesn't provide practical solutions to actually coming up with the number or get there.

You can retire sooner than you think, by Wes Moss


This is a useful book about how to plan and save for retirement. Moss's advice revolves around first identifying what you want your retirement to look like, setting a specific goal for how much money you'll need, paying off your mortgage before your retirement date, developing multiple streams of income in retirement, and investing in stocks and bonds that provide an income, not just growth.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Ready for anything: 52 productivity principles for work & life, by David Allen


While I'm a fan of David Allen's book Getting things done (GTD), I'm less fond of this followup, which consists of repackaged essays he wrote in a newsletter. It is more philosophical, containing musings on many topics related to productivity, but it adds very little to what he wrote in his earlier book. Many of the essays are repetitive, they are fairly unstructured, and I found myself skimming through them rather than reading closely. I think the book could have benefited from a good editor's close attention. If you haven't read GTD, I would recommend starting with that; this book is dispensable, and I don't even recommend it to practitioners of GTD.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Simplify your life, by Marcia Ramsland


I enjoyed this approach to simplifying your life by getting organized and reducing clutter. Author Marcia Ramsland tackles all aspects of managing a home and work, offering tips on how to simplify your calendar, schedule, mail, mealtime, laundry, cleaning, and projects. She advocates for the PuSH system, which refers to projects, systems, and habits, with the "u" referring to "you" the reader. She uses anecdotes from her own life as well as those of friends and clients to illustrate her points, which many can relate to. While there isn't much new for folks who have read a lot about simplifying your life or decluttering, it would be useful for anyone who's a novice at it.

Quitter: closing the gap between your day job and your dream job, by Jon Acuff


This is a thoughtful look at how you can reconcile your day job and your dreams. Many folks are in jobs that pay the bills but which aren't satisfying to the individual. Acuff uses his own experiences to show how you can do both jobs at the same time as you try to transition to the dream job. He emphasizes the value of learning to at least like your current job and hanging on to that job as you best position yourself to explore other options.

Money secrets of the Amish, by Lorilee Craker


I enjoyed this humorous exploration of how the Amish manage their money and save. Author Lorilee Craker comes from a Mennonite background so she has some insight into the Amish society as well. In 14 chapters she shares financial management tips based on the way the Amish live their lives. These include: UWMW (use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without); learning delayed gratification; paying bills on time; cutting back on (but not eliminating) gift giving; saving; don't spoil children; repurpose, recycle, and reuse things; avoid debt and the use of credit; buy used; buy in bulk; make things and food at home; and bartering. This is a charming look at a lifestyle that we can all learn from.

Throw out fifty things, by Gail Blanke


This is a great guide to helping readers purge their possessions to get control of clutter and make their lives more manageable. I focused on the first half of the book which addresses how to get rid of physical items. Author Gail Blanke walks the reader through each area of the home: bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room, dining room, attic, garage, and office, identifying all the things that people squirrel away in each area and giving advice about what to toss or donate and how to organize what's left. The second half of the book tackled messy relationships and "mental messes" which I was less interested in.

Friday, September 2, 2022

The queen is in the garbage, by Lila Karp


This is a reissue of the 1971 novel by radical feminist Lila Karp, published as part of the Classic Feminist Writers Series by The Feminist Press at the City University of New York in 2007. Harriet is a 32 year old single and pregnant writer who lives in London with her increasingly unhinged and potentially violent boyfriend. She flies to New York to spend Christmas with friends and to get away from him, but she goes into labor early and spends Christmas Eve in the hospital. The queen is in the garbage tells the story of her night in the hospital interspersed with her memories of childhood and past romantic relationships. With an emotionally abusive mother, a physically abusive father, a sexually abusive uncle, and a bullying older brother, Harriet suffers from low self esteem and constantly seeks others' approval. While her memories throughout her 14-hour labor show her all the painful things in her past that led to her current predicament, it's not clear at the end whether she has learned anything or changed. This is a short (157 pages) and sad novel that puts a spotlight on how society worked against women and their independence at the beginning of the second wave of feminism.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

9 1/2 narrow: my life in shoes, by Patricia Morrisroe


This is an amusing and intimate look into the life of journalist Patricia Morrisroe through the lens of the shoes and boots that she has loved and worn since childhood. Most chapters are named after a shoe type that punctuates that time in her life, from her early Mary Janes to Manolo Blahniks. It's a fun way to revisit some elements of American culture and life from the 1950s to the present. Ms. Morrisroe's writing is light and fun, but doesn't shy away from personal and family issues that cause her pain.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid


This was my book clubs latest selection. I'd been interested in it given that it's been on the NYT best seller list for months. I really enjoyed this story of a aging actress who decides to tell her life story to a novice magazine writer, revealing for the first time who the love of her life was.

Remainders of the day: A bookshop diary, by Shaun Bythell


Review to come.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Election, by Tom Perrotta


This was my book club's August pick; one of our members wanted to read it in anticipation of the sequel. It was a quick and very amusing take on a high school election, made into a movie decades ago with Reese Whitherspoon in the lead role. Based on my memory of the film, it followed the book very closely.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Making the list: a cultural history of the American bestseller, 1900-1999, by Michael Korda


I picked up this book in the Books about Books section of the Dog Ears Used Bookstore in Hoosick, NY a couple of weeks ago. It gives the history of the bestseller lists and includes the lists for every year of the 20th century. Based mostly on the Publishers Weekly lists, it reveals trends in American interests, showing that they haven't changed all that much in the last hundred years. Nonfiction lists reflect the times (war, political scandals, celebrity biographies), but also include diet, health, and cooking. Fiction lists went from novels geared primarily toward women in the early part of the century to bigger books that were marketed at both men and women. Author Michael Korda demonstrates that the fiction list has become much more difficult to break into as popular authors developed a rhythm of publishing a book a year and came to dominate the bestseller lists year after year. The book also touches upon changes in both publishing and bookselling, but ends without touching upon Amazon or other online retailers, and just briefly mentions e-books and how they might change the landscape. Korda devotes a chapter to each decade, introducing it with an essay that points out the highlights, then providing the lists by year. In the early years there was only a fiction list, but nonfiction was added in 1912. Both the fiction and nonfiction lists were expanded from 10 titles to 15 in 1978.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Aethelflaed: the Lady of the Mercians, by Tim Clarkson


Aethelflaed is the oldest daughter of Alfred the Great, but the most important near-contemporary history of that time, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, doesn't devote much attention to her. Tim Clarkson, an independent scholar of the Anglo-Saxon period, uses other sources to flesh out Aethelflaed's life, including many Anglo-Saxon charters, the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, and the Mercian Register. Even with these (and other) additional sources, there is a lot of speculation about Aethelflaed's life; however, this book provides a rich and well-written history of the early 10th century period in what eventually becomes England. In addition to eight pages of photographs, I really appreciated the many maps throughout the book along with the many drawings of the layouts of various towns and burhs that Aethelflaed founded or built up; many of them show the original Roman walls and streets as well as the newer Anglo-Saxon defenses added in the 10th century. The overarching theme is of Aethelflaed and Edward the Elder building burhs and other defenses against both the Danes in the north and east and the Welsh in the west, and ultimately expanding the borders of the Mercian and Wessex territories into East Anglia and Northumbria, slowly growing their lands to become the England that we're familiar with today, although that doesn't happen until later.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The hidden public: the story of the Book-of-the-Month Club, by Charles Lee

On a recent trip to Bennington, VT, we stopped off at the Dog Ears Book Store, where my favorite section is the books about books category, and where I found this interesting history of the Book-of-the-Month Club (BOMC) from its founding in 1926 through 1958, when it was published. The BOMC filled a significant niche in the literary marketplace because much of the US population did not live within a reasonable drive to a bookstore. Mail order book businesses allowed them to learn about new authors and buy contemporary fiction and non-fiction. Dozens of similar book clubs popped up, many of which were unsuccessful, but others of which continued for many years. Booksellers were outraged by the book club model, protesting the prices, premiums, and dividends offered to members, but industry analyses showed that the book clubs did not take away from book store purchases, and in fact, books and authors selected for the book club had skyrocketing sales in book stores as well due to the publicity offered by the book clubs.

I have my own history with book clubs, having been a member of one or more for decades starting in high school. I began subscribing to Organic Gardening in high school since I'd been gardening for years. Back then I really liked getting mail, and I would sign up for every catalog I could by filling out the postcards inside the magazine, as long as it had the stamp "no postage necessary." This way I got on tons of mailing lists, and I enjoyed reviewing all the catalogs that came my way, including the ones for the Troy-Bilt Roto-tiller, which my Dad continued receiving for decades, long after I moved out. Anyway, one of the mailings that I received was invitation to join a book club that focused on gardening and related pursuits. I decided to join, and my first three books covered many of my interests: a book about gardening, a book about how to become a vegetarian, and a book about raising small livestock. But the books kept coming, and I didn't have any way to pay for them, and I just hid them in my dresser drawer, until my Dad finally noticed all the mail and asked me if I'd joined a book club. I had to come clean. He paid the bills, and I let him read the books, too. My next book club was the Quality Paperback Book Club (QPBC), which I joined in the mid 1980s. I managed that book club better, and by that time I had my own checking account, so I could pay the bills. I belonged to the QPBC for decades, and have it to thank for opening my eyes to a lot of great literature. Some of the books that I remember getting from them in the early days included Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Toni Morrison's first five books, Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet, John Edgar Wideman's The Homewood Trilogy, and Richard Wright's Native Son and Black Boy (in one volume). I got a lot of nonfiction from QPBC as well, such as a biography of Mahatma Ghandi and collected articles by Ernie Pyle. It really expanded my horizons. Over the years I joined other book clubs: The Literary Guild, BOMC, History Book Club, and the Cooking and Crafts Book Club, but the QPBC will always be my favorite (with the History Book Club a close second).

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Bezos blueprint: communication secrets of the world's greatest salesman, by Carmine Gallo


Communications coach Gallo (Talk Like TED) teaches successful speaking and writing by breaking down the communication style of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Intended for professionals in a business setting, the book draws lessons from real excerpts of speeches and shareholder memos that Bezos has delivered over the past 20- plus years. Gallo also mines the records of other successful entrepreneurs for examples of effective writing. Among the book's basic communication strategies are to write at an eighth-grade level (using words with only one or two syllables, in sentences of varying lengths) and to deploy metaphors and analogies to add interest. Some of the techniques come from screenwriting, such as formulating a logline and developing "three-act" presentations. Key Bezos tactics include replacing PowerPoint presentations with narrative memos in management meetings, working backwards to get ahead (i.e., writing a product's press release at the beginning of the design stage), and treating every day as "day one." Additional examples reveal insights on communication at companies such as Apple, Canva, and Airbnb. VERDICT An insightful guide to improving communication skills.

Review published originally in Library Journal 147:9 (2022): 148.

A man of the world: My life at National Geographic, by Gilbert M. Grosvenor


I picked up this book at the ALA conference in Washington, D.C. in June. It tells the story of author Gilbert M. Governor's life growing up within the National Geographic Society. Following his family's generations-long involvement with founding, working for, and leading the Society, Grosvenor was immersed in geography, adventure, travel, photography, and writing from a young age. After college he went to work for the magazine as a photographer, and spent the next 40+ years working for them in a series of roles of increasing responsibility. He served as editor for a decade in his forties, following that with service as chairman for many years after. Even after he stepped down as chairman, he continued to serve on the board, contributing in many ways to National Geographic Society projects. His most ambitious project was to incorporate geography education into K-12 schools across the U.S. This is a captivating inside look into one of the most ubiquitous institutions in the country. While I'm thrilled to have picked this up at ALA, it's an advance reader's edition and lacks the photographs. When it comes out in September, I'm going to have to get my hands on a copy to check out the images.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Lady in the lake, by Laura Lippman


I really enjoyed this mystery set in the 1960s. Maddie Schwartz has left her husband and is trying to make it on her own. She begins an affair with an younger, Black police officer, and befriends a young woman who is using her to get out from under her parents' overprotective sight. When they find a missing young girl's body, Maddie uses that to break into the news business, first writing a short piece, and then working as an office assistant. She decides to investigate another missing woman, and her research leads to another body. Maddie won't drop the story, though, and her investigations upend a lot of lives in the process. Each chapter is told from a rotating set of viewpoints, with Maddie's being the most prominent. I liked this way of framing the story; it kept it moving, but also allowed each character's story to be told.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

I want to die but I want to eat tteokbokki, by Baek Sehee


Author Baek Sehee is a successful professional in the publishing industry who grew up with an abusive father and a hypercritical mother. Internalizing the criticism, as a young woman she questioned and criticized herself to the point of depression and severe anxiety. The depression is disruptive, but not so debilitating that she does not still want her favorite foods, such as tteokbokki. After initiating therapy with a psychiatrist, Baek began to record her sessions, and the bulk of this book consists of transcriptions of discussions in which they talk about her depression and pervasive self-criticism. Baek is cringingly honest and authentic throughout. While many of Baek’s anxieties may seem trite or petty (e.g., “Is she prettier than I am?”), they interfere with her ability to live a full life. She begins each chapter with a brief essay that introduces a topic she wants to discuss with the psychiatrist and concludes each one with an essay reflecting on what she learned from the session. Chapters address topics such as honesty, self-surveillance, self-esteem, medication, physical attractiveness, and more. VERDICT This is a sincere attempt at self-discovery that will resonate with young people who suffer from similar forms of depression and anxiety. 

This review was previously published in Library Journal 147:8 (2022):106.