Go the Distance with Audiobooks

Yes Please coverFor those of you who don’t keep up with obscure monthly observances, June happens to be National Audiobook Month. This, in my opinion, is excellent timing. What better month to celebrate a form of reading that allows us to enjoy the best of summer? We can safely read while we run, garden, hike, or embark on long road trips. It should come as no surprise that our library employees are avid consumers of the audiobook in its many forms. In order to help you choose your next ear-read (I’m making that a word), we’ve asked our staff to review some of their favorite audiobooks. Place your holds now!

Leslie

Harold Fry coverThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel  Joyce (CD and eAudio).  This novel is about a man who is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old love in order to save her, meeting various characters along the way and reminiscing about the events of his past and people he has known, as he tries to find peace and acceptance. I enjoyed listening to it partly because of the narrator’s British accent but mostly because of the well written and compelling story.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is also by Rachel Joyce (CD) and it is the story told from the perspective of the woman who Harold Fry is walking to visit. It features another charming British accent and there’s a surprise at the end.

Short Nights coverShort Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan (CD and eAudio) is the story of photographer Edward S. Curtis and his passionate project of documenting the remaining Native American tribes in stunning photographs. An incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, Egan’s book tells the remarkable untold story behind Curtis’s iconic photographs. You obviously don’t see the photos while listening to this book, but the images created by this author are still vivid in my memory. I associate it with painting our basement as that’s what I did while ‘reading’ this fabulous story. Now if I could just have a Curtis photograph for my basement walls…

These Few Precious Days by Christopher Andersen (CD) will amaze you with the whole story of Jack and Jackie’s final year together. This book is a glimpse into the twilight days of Camelot.


One Summer coverYes, Please! By Amy Poehler (CD) is simply hilarious and made even better by being read by the author herself. Listen to this one if you need a good laugh, and who doesn’t? (Lisa here – I have to second this choice – it’s fantastic!)


One Summer: America 1927
by Bill Bryson (CD and Playaway) is about just that: America in the summer of 1927. This is a big story about the big personalities of the day: Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge, Charles Lindbergh, Al Jolson and more. Do yourself a favor and let someone else read it to you! It’s fascinating.

Alan

Grapes of Wrath coverThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (CD)
I had always meant to read this and once I had a long commute, I was able to find the time. The book about the plight of American farmers who were forced off their farms by drought and foreclosure during the 1930’s is everything you’d expect. But the narration adds so much to the story. When you finish the audiobook, cue up Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads, which the library also owns.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak (CD and eAudio)
Very funny, well worth hearing B. J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman, Mindy Kaling, and many, many others perform the occasionally brilliant, sometimes underdeveloped, always funny pieces on the audiobook version of this short story collection from a writer of the American version of “The Office.”

Fighting Chance coverA Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren (CD and eAudio)
Elizabeth Warren’s story of her bumpy rise to fame and political power not only sets the stage for (likely) a higher office, but serves to inspire and make her as relatable as she appears in interviews and speeches. Read by the author/politician, Warren has a wonderfully rich voice, elevating the telling nicely.

Joyce

Born Standing Up coverBorn Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, written and read by Steve Martin (CD). Listening to the long-time writer/producer/actor/musician/comic’s audiobook gave me a jolt of intimacy and pleasure that his book—no matter how well written—could not have delivered on. Born Standing Up had me marveling at not just the words, but his voice: the tone and timbre, and timing, and Martin’s is impeccable. Martin’s memoir about growing up in southern California, working and learning magic at Disneyland, playing banjo in coffeehouses, his unusual, breakthrough comedy routines and becoming hugely popular on Saturday Night Live was a funny, enthralling life story.

Eileen

I have become an audiobook fanatic since acquiring an MP3 player several years ago. I listen when I’m gardening, walking, cooking (sometimes this is not a good thing), ironing—in other words whenever I’m doing something that doesn’t take a lot of concentration.

I have several favorites. Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (CD and Playaway) is one I heard early in my career as a book listener, and it still comes back to haunt me. The reader’s voice was perfect for conveying Didion’s sense of loss and hopelessness as first her husband then her daughter die in the same year.

Bringing Up the Bodies coverI listened to both of Hilary Mantel’s books about the life of Thomas Cromwell and his association with Henry VIII.  Several people had told me that they found it difficult to track who was who when they attempted to read Wolf Hall (CD and eAudio), the first book in what is expected to be a trilogy. Listening to it there was no such difficulty. The right reader is critical to my enjoyment of an audiobook, and Simon Slater was the perfect choice for my ears. But then I also enjoyed hearing Simon Vance read Bring up the Bodies (CD and eAudio), Mantel’s sequel.

Dance with Dragons coverLastly I thoroughly enjoyed all of the George R. R. Martin series, Song of Ice and Fire (CD and eAudio).  I didn’t expect this to be true because I don’t normally read fantasy or science fiction, but I was hearing rave reviews from library patrons, and thought listening to the audio version would be easier than reading all 694 pages of A Game of Thrones. Many hours later—and I mean many hours since each of the books in the series so far run more than 30 hours—I came to the end of the fifth book,  A Dance with Dragons, and all I could think of was when would he finish writing the next book so I could find out what happened!

Julie

Misty imageMy all-time favorite audio book has to be Misty of Chincoteague read by Edward Hermann (Playaway). His voice is so great and friendly, making me feel like a grandpa is reading it. I also like that it is a playaway so I can walk around with it. My commute is only 1.5 miles, so a book on disc would take me ages!

Me

I blogged a little while back about some excellent non-fiction audiobooks that I really enjoyed; you can find that post here. More recent favorites include:

The Road coverThe Road by Cormac McCarthy (CD). Imagine the Walking Dead, sans walkers. The world as we know it has been obliterated by an unspecified disaster. Father and son find themselves on a furtive journey to the sea. What they hope to find there is unclear, but it has to be better than where they’ve come from. Doesn’t it? Haunting, anxiety-ridden, but strangely beautiful at times.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (CD). Young love is rough and often prone to failure. What happens if it never truly dies? Love in the Time of Cholera is a fairly humorous and slightly dark look at one man’s 1/2-a-century struggle to overcome his first heartbreak. It may leave you asking: does love ever truly die?

Brief Reads

Brief ReadsSummer is almost here and soon people in Library Land will start buzzing about beach reads. I say forget the beach reads and pick up some brief reads! Nope, I’m not talking about underpants. I mean books that won’t take you very long to read. And if you’re like me and have been experiencing a series of disappointments, be it books that let you down or ones that were too terrible to finish (looking at you, Ron!), I suggest picking a couple of gems from my list and watch your “books read” page on GoodReads fill up faster than me on margarita night. Pro tip: margarita night can be any night when you’re mixing them at home.

oneI was an Awesomer Kid by Brad Getty
Step back in time and relive life through your eyes. Your childhood eyes, that is. Generously peppered with vintage childhood photographs, Getty brings forth universal truths from our totally awesome childhoods: we wore whatever we wanted, we didn’t hide our emotions, we got paid to do chores, and our prime mode of transportation were Big Wheels. Reading this book won’t take you very long, but be prepared for the inevitable detours that this jaunt down memory lane may cause.

Terrible Estate Agent Photos by Andy Donaldson
Based on the popular Tumblr of the same name, this book is meant to be shared. Bring a loved one in on the reading and spend time laughing together at the absurdity of just how unprepared some homes are to have their photo taken when they’re being put on the market. Trends include toilets in the kitchen (not to be confused with toilet kitchens, ala The League), the Garden Chair of Solitude (that lone patio chair inexplicably left alone in the corner of a backyard photograph), and mysterious and disgusting stains and smears left on walls and floors. I remember when we sold my childhood home. I was 9 and I had to shove all my kid crap under my bed before the real estate agents arrived to show the house. The people who own the properties in this book? Please. They don’t see the need to stage an attractive shot of their home! People will want to buy it based on its location alone. Right? Right?

fourRad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz
If there’s one thing I wish I could buckle down and read more often, it’s biographies and memoirs. There’s nothing quite like delving into a historical figure’s life and learning all sorts of new tidbits about them, and possibly seeing them in a new light. For some reason, though, I’m never quite in the mood to read a 500 page biography, no matter how fascinating I may find the subject. Thankfully there’s a brief read to satisfy this need of mine. This book gives you exactly one page of information for each of the 26 women featured. Reading these brief bios (how meta: brief in a brief read!) may whet your appetite for more, but if not you can at least say you now have heard of these awesome ladies. Plus, your new-found knowledge may aid you at a future trivia night.

That Should Be a Word by Lizzie Skurnick
Build your vocabulary and knock out yet another book by picking up this one. Amaze your friends and be on the cutting edge of a language revolution with such words as dramaneering (maintaining control by seeming to be in crisis), stardy (setting off late), sharanoia (fear of what people are thinking of your posts), and oughty (guilty but lazy anyhow). These words frequently describe my behavior in procrastinating writing for this blog, so I found the book extremely helpful.

fiveCoffee Gives Me Superpowers by Ryoko Iwata
I honestly don’t think you need me to talk this book up to you. Either you thrive on coffee like yours truly, or you never touch that dark, bitter liquid. The latter may skip this one, but if drinking your morning cuppa sprouts a metaphorical cape onto your back, you’re going to want to carve out the 30 minutes required for this book. Filled with facts and infographics, there is humor peppered throughout and those who read this book shall find a bonus comic in the back illustrated by Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal called If Coffee Were My Boyfriend.

No need to thank me, kids. I know we’re all rushed. Just be sure to credit me back when you publicly eschew beach reads for brief reads. And if you can confuse someone regarding the meaning of briefs (“Not underpants, silly!”) all the better.

My Journey Into Yoga

Enjoy a post today from Gloria:

I began my journey into yoga a few years ago. I was overweight and due to past injuries (broken leg, repeated ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis and osteoarthritis) I wanted to get some exercise that wouldn’t pound on my joints. I wasn’t sure of the commitment I wanted to give this new fitness, so I took a class with my local school district to see if it would be a success or failure. I discovered that yoga isn’t about success, failure or competition, it is all about the journey.

Listed below are some yoga resources that you might find helpful if you head down the same path as me.

The City of Everett Parks department offers many local yoga classes. The upcoming summer classes are listed in the Everett Parks & Recreation Summer Guide on page 16.

The library has a lot of great books and DVDs for the entire family that cover many subjects relating to yoga.

yoga1

Healing Yoga: Proven Postures to Treat Twenty Common Ailments – From Backache to Bone Loss, Shoulder Pain to Bunions and More by Loren Fishman came up in my search as one of Everett Public Libraries most popular yoga books.

Everett has a naval base here in the city, and I thought the book Yoga for Warriors, Basic Training in Strength, Resilience and Peace of Mind: a System for Veterans and Military Service Men and Women by Beryl Bender Birch would be a book our local warriors might want to check out.

Blending Yoga and fiction is a fun and lighthearted way to integrate the practice with a fun story. EPL has the Downward Dog Mystery Series by Tracy Weber.

Here are two Yoga memoirs complete with descriptions from the catalog to give you an idea of what they are about:

Yoga Girl by Rachel Brathen
yogagirlPart self-help and part memoir, Yoga Girl is an inspirational, full-color look at the adventure that took writer and yoga teacher Rachel Brathen from her hometown in Sweden to the jungles of Costa Rica and finally to a paradise island in the Caribbean that she now calls home. In Yoga Girl, she gives readers an in-depth look at her journey from her self-destructive teenage years to the bohemian life she’s built through yoga and meditation in Aruba today. Featuring photos of Brathen practicing yoga in tropical locales, along with step-by-step yoga sequences and simple recipes.

yogaandbodyimageYoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body by Melanie Klein & Anna Guest-Jelley
In this remarkable, first-of-its-kind book twenty-five contributors–including musician Alanis Morissette, celebrity yoga instructor Seane Corn, and New York Times bestselling author Dr. Sara Gottfried–discuss how yoga and body image intersect. Through inspiring personal stories you’ll discover how yoga not only affects your physical health, but also how you feel about your body.

There are many great Yoga DVDs available from the library. Here are three standouts:

yoga2

Yoga Journal. Your Daily Yoga 

Family Yoga

Yoga Journal. Living Yoga

My journey into yoga continues. I joined a gym and take regular Vinyasa (flow and breath) yoga. I even ventured into a Hot/ Bikram Yoga class where the first, very structured class was like being tortured in a sweaty sauna, and yes I went back for more. I continue to be interested in different classes and broadening my yogic horizons in mind, body and spirit.

Gloria

Where Were You? The Eruption of Mount St. Helens

It may be surprising to note that we’ve reached the 35th anniversary of the disastrous eruption of Mount St. Helens. On May 18, 1980, a beautiful Sunday morning was shattered by a 5.1 earthquake near Spirit Lake, starting a chain reaction that resulted in the explosion of the active volcano we have come to fear and respect. As stated on the USDA’s Mount St. Helens website:

The eruption lasted 9 hours, but Mount St. Helens and the surrounding landscape were dramatically changed within moments.

Everything I just told you is fact. And while I’d love to share some facts from my life surrounding this epic event, I was not yet born. Therefore I have pestered my colleagues into sharing their personal stories and memories of this momentous day.

rememberingmountsthelens

Mount St. Helens had been active for quite a while when I made a trip past it on the way to visit a friend in Washougal, WA. Near Longview, I dropped off a hitchhiker who said he intended to sneak into the red zone set up around the mountain. Two days later, back home in Bellingham on Sunday morning, a noise loud enough to cause waves in my water bed woke me up. My home was near enough to a railroad switching yard that I assumed it was connecting train cars that had jarred me out of sleep. Because I didn’t have a television, and didn’t listen to the radio that morning, it wasn’t until afternoon that I discovered that the noise that shook me out of bed was Mount St. Helens blowing up! I often wondered if that hitchhiker managed to sneak into the red zone and if so, did he make it out alive? After a hike in the North Cascades later in the year was cut short by ash fall, my hiking buddy gave me a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t come to Washington, Washington will come to you. Mount St. Helens.” I had it on my car for years until someone pointed out that the lettering had faded so that all that remained was “Don’t come to Washington.”
Theresa

When Mount St. Helens erupted, I was in Victoria, B.C. with my high school marching band, getting ready to perform in the Victoria Days parade. I think we didn’t find out about the event until returning home, which was in Des Moines (WA, not IA). There wasn’t much evidence of the explosion in my neighborhood, but the following September I headed to Walla Walla for my first year of college, and ash was still quite prevalent in that area. And to bring things full circle, we put together a very small marching band for our soccer homecoming game, and the other trumpet player (to be silly) wore a surgical mask (which were recommended after the blow up) while marching.
Ron

It was a beautiful sunny spring day. My mother and I were in church at Saint Mary Magdalene’s. Because it was such a warm lovely day, the church doors were propped open. Suddenly there was a loud Ka-Boom! We thought it was probably a sonic boom.  When we returned home we discovered that Mount St. Helens had exploded. I don’t know why we didn’t think it was the volcano right away when we heard the explosion. The bulge in the mountain was on the news every night, as well as the many interviews with Harry Truman at Spirit Lake Lodge.
Fran

st.helensYou might think the explosion of a volcano would leave a large impression on a young man, but sadly the eruption of Mount St. Helens was just a news headline for me in 1980 as I prepared to enter junior high school in the wilds of Wisconsin. Bouncing around in my self-absorbed pre-adolescent mind were songs like “Cars” by Gary Numen or “Refugee” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with little room left for significant geological and national news events. Oddly though, I do remember a rather dreadful direct-to-cable movie that came out a year or two after the event titled, St. Helens. It was your classic, and cheesy, disaster movie starring Art Carney as Harry Randall Truman, the lodge owner who refused to leave despite ample warning that the mountain was going to blow.
Richard

I remember that it was a Sunday and my fiancée (now husband of almost 25 years) and I were headed into an opera at the Seattle Center. It was Wagner, I believe. We saw an ash plume when we emerged. What’s that? It took a while to find out since in those days we didn’t have a mobile phone, of course. We had to go home and wait for the 5 o’clock news to find out that a volcano had erupted.
Leslie

My memory of that day is similar to thousands of others…I was working in the backyard in my north Everett home, and my 5-month-old baby was napping in the house. Suddenly I heard what I thought was the loudest sonic boom I’d ever heard! (I just knew that’s what it was because I’d grown up in Eastern Washington, where we heard these things all the time.) It rattled the windows and really shook me up. I thought those military planes weren’t supposed to fly that low! Boy, was I stunned over the next few days; every time we turned on the TV we saw more our state being choked with ash – ash that eventually made its way around the world. It was so sad, mostly for cities to the northeast of the mountain, and for mountain resident Harry Truman, who’d been interviewed repeatedly since the mountain started rumbling, and who refused to leave his home.
Chris

It was a Sunday, middle of the afternoon and my mother was driving us kids back home to Colfax from Spokane. The sky got really dark, like it was going to storm…and boy did it rain down this silvery white ash like snow. Our car, a little Corvair, choked on all the ash in the air filter and broke down. Luckily, the high school principal was just a few cars back and gave us a ride back to town in his big Suburban. When we got home, we had students from WSU camped out in our living room because they couldn’t get back to school. We ended up with over a foot of ash…we cleared it off the roof and sidewalks with snow shovels. I was in eighth grade at the time and the spring quarter ended then, on that day…Yippee, early summer vacation! The town where I grew up was in the Palouse, famous for our wheat fields and other agricultural products. Everyone was worried what the ash would do to the crops; in the end, it didn’t hurt them, and may have even fertilized them some. I remember we all had to wear these ash masks when we went outside. At first they were afraid that the fallout might hurt us (possible radiation or contamination), but when it didn’t, they let us kids play in the muck just like we played in snow. It was scary at the time but fascinating to watch on television.
Gloria

The weekend Mount St. Helens erupted my best friend had come up from Longview to visit me in Seattle. She got a phone call from her parents telling her the mountain had erupted and she should come right home before the road was cut off.  All predictions were expecting the I-5 Bridge to go once the massive flow of debris on the Toutle River met the Cowlitz River.  I was immediately frightened for my Grandma; she lived in Kelso just five blocks from the Cowlitz River and her neighborhood was right at river level.  The quick action of evacuation efforts got them out of potential harm’s way.  I had a number of other friends and relatives in that area, and in the path of the heaviest ash fallout; thankfully the only harm suffered was to their vehicles. I had been on an outing to Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake just a few years before. I had a vivid memory of what it looked like before the eruption, making it even more amazing to compare to the devastating images I was seeing on TV.
Anita

We were planning to go on a hike to the ice caves. It was before I was married to my now-husband Rob. We also were planning to go with two friends of ours. Rob called and asked if I had heard that Mount St. Helens had blown up (I didn’t have a TV, but it was on the radio). It didn’t seem real at the time. I know that sounds clichéd but at the time it seemed like the news media was exaggerating everything. That couldn’t be really happening, could it? So we decided that it wasn’t a good idea to go hiking that day, but we still went outside anyway—3 of us ended up over at my apartment. They weren’t saying right away that people should stay inside. Later that evening, it seemed, they were warning people to avoid going out in the ash. Anyway, we still went outside to investigate. You could see it in the sky that afternoon and for days afterward you had to go around wiping ash off of every surface. You could see it everywhere.
Kathy

Almost every summer, my father taught a summer session at UW on volcanoes and we traveled up from Colorado. Part of our summer trip up here was a stay near Mount St. Helens at Spirit Lake. It was a favorite childhood place of mine, and we continued to travel there as a family throughout my college years. I had been following the Mount St. Helens rumblings on TV. We were living in Panama and I was following this on CNN because of my childhood memories of going there. I was fascinated, glued to CNN and very upset whenever the armed forces TV service would cut away to something else. When I found out it blew up I learned it had forever changed Spirit Lake. My mother had said it was the most beautiful, perfect volcano in the world. It was all very, very sad.
Pat B.

I was a young wife and new mother living in the town of Carnation. I had just given birth to our eldest child Carla, born April 20th 1980. The thought that the world was coming to an end crossed my mind fueled by an excess of postpartum hormones. I don’t even think we had TV at the time nor did I need one to see the monumental plume. I was able to step out into our yard and see the ash dust. I would later be given a small vile of the dust that I held onto for years. We hope to visit Mount St. Helens this summer and see how life has returned in the aftermath.
Margo

I was only 3 at the time, but my mom said she went outside. We didn’t get a whole ton of ash on the ground at first, but she said it was really dark out. She said it seemed like the beginning of a snowfall, and that it was so freaky to see the sky that way. It was in the middle of a nice day and then the sky just got dark so very suddenly. She was always on the move so she didn’t spend a lot of time watching TV. So it came as a shock to see it happening in the middle of her day. She wasn’t scared, but was confused and wanted to see what was going on.
Jennifer H.

I honestly don’t remember the Mount St. Helens eruption. I just remember that massive tire fire that started a few years later. I went to North Middle and we couldn’t go to school after the tire fire since the ventilation system at the school sucked in all the fumes.
Kevin

Best of the (Half) Decade

Today I saw a list of the top 100 books written in the past half-decade. We were not amused. Items chosen were limited almost exclusively to adult fiction, and the fiction itself seemed to be fairly narrow in scope. So quite obviously it’s time for a better list. Created by me.

Books chosen have all been read by yours truly, which skews the list’s contents, confining it to items I find attractive. Obviously some wonderful books will be absent. But of the 80 or so books written since 2010 that I’ve read, diverse genres including autobiographies, humor, YA, juvenile, graphic novels, mystery, supernatural fiction, travel, historical fiction, and true crime have been explored. Allowing for a potentially well-rounded list.

And now I give you: The Top 13 Books Written Since 2010!

  1. Let’s Pretend this Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson (2012) Perhaps the funniest book I’ve ever read. Written by the Bloggess, a woman who recounts pant-wettingly hilarious scenarios whilst openly discussing her severe coping issues, this book is guaranteed to shock, perhaps revolt, and leave you aching from unquenchable laughter.
  1. Insane City by Dave Barry (2013)
    I have a soft spot for ridiculously complex, filled-with-coincidences plots. In a way, it doesn’t even matter what the story is about as long as the screwball comedy aspect is well done. Dave Barry is always enjoyable and this is perhaps his greatest effort. The plot is not even remotely describable in less than 10,000 words, so suffice to say: Florida, wedding, Russian gangsters, angry strippers, and pythons. Standard issue Dave Barry.
  1. At Home by Bill Bryson (2010)
    Bill Bryson has become my guru. Don’t understand science? Read Bryson. Need a better handle on the English language? Bryson. In At Home he explains how dwellings evolved and where names of house parts came from, all while imparting abundant information about western civilization. Funny, understandable, a compelling read.

Set 1

  1. The World’s Greatest Sleuth by Steve Hockensmith (2010)
    The Holmes on the Range mystery-solving series is durned brilliant. In this installment, the Amlingmeyer brothers travel from their usual Western climes to the 1893 Columbian Exposition and compete with famous detectives in the field of detecting. Murder, of course, ensues. Outstanding evocation of the Chicago fair.
  1. Yes Please by Amy Poehler (2014)
    Of all the autobiography/memoirs I’ve read, this was my favorite. Written in a personable, conversational yet well-crafted style, Ms. Poehler recounts life stories and shares bits of her wise personal philosophy, creating a sort of charming, amusing self-help manual.
  1. Bye Bye, Baby by Max Allan Collins (2011)
    Brilliant historical fiction that examines the circumstances of Marilyn Monroe’s death. Through Collins we get to know Marilyn, the powerful people she mingled with, and the potential truths behind her death. After reading this book I was moved to learn more about her life and death, which indicates to me that Collins did a superlative job.

Set 2

  1. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (2011)
    A plane crash, abundant death, struggles to survive, nefarious politicians and Miss Texas all mix poetically in this waggish disembowelment of the beauty pageant industry.
  1. Who Could That Be At This Hour? By Lemony Snicket (2012)
    For a fabulous description of this fabulous book, read Carol’s fabulous post here. I’m not a huge fan of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I was blown away by this new mysterious series. Written for kids but equally intriguing for adults.
  1. The Rosie Effect by Graeme C. Simsion (2014)
    In this follow up to The Rosie Project, Don and Rosie are married and expecting. Don (who I suspect is on the extremely high-functioning end of the autism spectrum) approaches fatherhood as a problem to be solved, but Rosie is not sure if his lack of emotion will allow him to be a good father. Tension follows, communications break down, and the couple struggles to maintain their couplehood. A powerful, magical romance that shows how people of all kinds can enrich the lives of others.

Set 3

  1. The Yard by Alex Grecian (2012)
    Fascinating fictional look at the beginnings of Scotland Yard, the ridiculous caseload piled on the pitiful handful of detectives, and the ease with which murder could be successfully committed in the 19th century.
  1. The Dangerous Animals Club by Stephen Tobolowsky (2012)
    Stephen Tobolowsky is an incredibly versatile and prolific actor, perhaps most remembered as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day. This memoir tells tales of his intriguing life, but is also filled with philosophical musings and complex ideas. Funny and thought provoking.
  1. Deep Creek by Dana Hand (2010)
    Historical fiction based on a true story. When Chinese gold miners are murdered along the Idaho-Oregon border, white settlers don’t really care. The Sam Yup Company, a powerful Chinese firm, hires a local man to solve the mystery. Elegant, descriptive writing clearly depicts an unjust time.
  1. Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel (2011)
    This is one of the few graphic novels that has truly engaged me, featuring beautiful charcoal drawings and a fantastical tale of love, riverboat travel, and mermaids. Memorable, alluring and ultimately disturbing.

Set 4

So there you have it, 13 books, one for each month of the year! Read, enjoy, enrich and prepare for the next half-decade.

Memoirs, Old and New

My father loved to tell a good story and what made a story good for him was if it was about someone’s life: where it started, what happened, how the person reacted and how it all ended. It was so interesting to hear these stories as a child around the dinner table, but what is equally fascinating is to read someone else’s story of their life in their own words- in their memoir.

indexMany people interchangeably use the terms ‘autobiography’ and ‘memoir,’ but they’re different.  An autobiography is factual and is typically written by famous people. The thing that sets a top memoir apart from other literary works such as biographies or autobiographies is that it includes the personal experiences and first-hand accounts of the author. It feels more personal and can be written by anyone. For example, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl only discusses key experiences she lived through during the Holocaust, and the effects it had on her as a child.

Some of my favorite books have been memoirs. To me they seem to be divided into two categories: the really funny and the sad, but meaningful. Let’s look at both groups and also some of the latest memoirs published just this year.

index (8)A very gritty but ultimately uplifting memoir written by Liz Murray is Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homelessness to Harvard. This is the story of a young girl born to loving but addicted parents who finds herself homeless in New York City. She somehow manages to complete high school even though she must ride the subway at night for a safe, dry place to sleep–thus the title: ‘breaking night’.

index (9)I loved Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood  by Alexandra Fuller. She was just three when her parents moved from England to what was then Rhodesia. They bought a farm and fought to eke out a living in an environment hostile in more ways than one.
Her prose is simple and compelling, addressing with equal clarity the richness of growing up in Africa and the instability brought on by having hard-drinking, openly racist parents who were fighting on the losing side of Zimbabwe’s war of independence. She gives us a unique view into a moment in history, made accessible and almost normal-seeming from the perspective of a child.

index (12)The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby is a beautiful book. Letter by letter, the Editor-in-Chief of French Elle, dictated his life story with winks despite being totally incapacitated by ‘locked in syndrome’ following a stroke. The diving bell and the butterfly are powerful metaphors that bespeak the triumph of the human will over physical disability of the highest order.

index (13)The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a widely read story that illustrates the resilience of children. In the beginning I truly loved the way her parents looked at life, and how the family dynamics were endearing even if life was tough. Later on, when both the father’s alcoholism and mother’s obvious mental illness progressed, things went from bad to intolerable. The sheer tenacity of the kids is amazing. It’s hard to understand the hardships others may have endured, yet reading about it puts you into their shoes. This is an incredible read and I loved it.

index (14)Now for the Funny! I loved The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson because it is, after all, Bryson! He is hilarious! He tells of his childhood growing up in the middle of the American century (1951) in the middle of the United States (Des Moines, Iowa) in the middle of the largest generation in American history (the baby boomers). As one of the funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his all-American childhood for memoir gold and here he strikes it rich with this memoir.

index (15)Have you read A Girl Named Zippy: Growing up Small in Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel? I read it years ago and still smile when I see the cover. I love the narrator’s clear-eyed child’s view of the people around her, and the fact that her memoir tells the story of a different world than most of us know: the mostly idyllic small town of many years ago. Serious issues are hinted at, not avoided, but neither are they dwelled upon. I loved the characterization of Zippy’s family, particularly her father, and also that of her friends, since friends are such a huge part of the universe to a kid in grade school. This book is laugh-out-loud funny and sweet, just like Zippy herself.

index (16)I recently listened to Amy Poehler read her funny memoir called Yes, Please! and that’s the way to ‘read’ this one if you ask me. She is just so funny and hearing it in her voice makes it all the more delightful. If you’re feeling blue and need a lift, or want some good life advice delivered with humor, this’ll do it. This is one of the best comedian-bios I’ve read/listened to yet. Yes, please!

index (1)Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys is by Viv Albertine who was in the British punk rock band The Slits. Not only is this a great reflection on an influential moment in time, but there are so many great bits about being a woman, artistic inspiration, and how to keep your identity intact while having a family. My heart was kind of breaking for girls in the first part – the expectations heaped upon them, and the boxes they are expected to stay in. It was a real delight to see her break out of that and bust some stereotypes. When she comes to the realization that she doesn’t need a man to believe in her but rather can inspire herself, it is just a real delight. Read it.

index (19)A fellow librarian recommended Bettyville by George Hodgman who writes about taking care of his 90-year-old mother, Betty, in his hometown of Paris, MO. Hodgman grew up in middle America during a time when the word gay was never spoken aloud. The message he received from everyone but his parents was that he was wrong. His parents avoided the subject altogether. As an adult, he escaped to New York City where he began his career as an editor. But now, years after his father has passed, his mother needs 24/7 care. This book would foster a good discussion in a book club and will be of interest to even those without aging parents.

index (20)Leaving Before the Rains Come is the new one by Alexandra Fuller and has already been highly acclaimed. She writes of her marriage and divorce from Charlie, an American rafting guide. Filled with wise gems like: “The problem with most people is that they want to be alive for as long as possible without any idea how to live,” and “There are no bad words, only bad ways to use good words,” this memoir was powerfully written and inspiring. Alexandra Fuller, both as a woman and as a writer, is a force to be reckoned with.

For these and other great stories to tell around your dinner table, come visit the Everett Public Library!

Morbid Curiosity

It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.  ~ Death (A Play) by Woody Allen

Most of us are fans of denial when it comes to thinking about shuffling off the mortal coil. The idea of dying is at best depressing and at worst terrifying so not thinking about it seems like the healthy thing to do. And yet, if you’re a mass of contradictions like me, you can’t help being morbidly curious about the people whose professions have them dealing with death all the time. Happily, well maybe not happily, there is a small subgenre of memoirs that are from coroners, undertakers, doctors and others that deal with ‘death issues’ on a daily basis. Here are three recent ones that I found particularly illuminating. Do be forewarned though, they contain realistic descriptions of procedures and situations that are not for the faint of heart.

Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell
workingstiffThis is the tale of Melinek’s rookie year as a New York City medical examiner. From suicides, accidents, murders and the much more common ‘natural causes’, the author lays out the particulars of how the bodies she performs autopsies on reveal the manner of death. Despite the gory details, this is not just a cold and calculating CSI type memoir though. She gives everyone involved, both the living and the dead, humane and complex portraits. As she describes her duties you really get a sense of what it must be like to work in a profession where you are confronted with mortality on a daily basis. Layered throughout the book is the classic attitude of realism, gallows humor and humanity that is required to survive in ‘the city’ and that comes in particularly handy in the medical examiner’s office.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
smokegetsinyoureyesWritten by a practicing mortician and host of a popular web series titled Ask a Mortician, this book is an entertaining memoir but also a serious and thought-provoking examination of how society tries to deal with death and the dead. The author recounts, in admittedly gruesome but humorous detail, her introduction to the ‘death industry’ working at Westwind Cremation and Burial in Oakland. As she encounters the methods and tools of the trade (cremation, embalming and the horrifying trocar to name a few) she uses the opportunity to examine the history and social context for each practice. Many interesting conclusions are reached, but a central one is the great lengths we go to as a society to separate ourselves, both physically and emotionally, from the dead and the damage this separation causes.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
beingmortalWhile this book is far less gruesome than the previous two, I found the ideas it presents the most disturbing. Gawande is a practicing surgeon but this is not a memoir about his profession. Instead it is an examination of the disconnect between the medical profession’s view of death as a failure and the inevitable fact that we all die. He cuts through professional jargon such as ‘end of life care’ and ‘assisted living’ by interviewing and telling the stories of those facing the indignities of aging and death and modern medicine’s response to the process. These stories include his father’s decline and they are touching, instructive, and difficult to deal with all at the same time. By confronting the experience head on, however, Gawande gains important insight into how the medical community, and all of us, can actually serve the needs of those facing their final chapter.

Well, after reading these books I guess there is no denying the fact that I’m going to die someday. Wait, I refuse to accept that. I’m sure we will all be fine.