What to Read While You Wait for Becoming

As of this writing I’m number 28 in a holds queue of 38 for the most-requested book right now at EPL. Don’t worry–I’m not here to complain! I do believe that good things come to those who wait. But I also believe that waiting shouldn’t be boring. I want to share with you some other rad books out there that those of us waiting for Michelle Obama’s Becoming can read while we wait patiently somewhat patiently kinda impatiently–okay, totally impatiently but at least we’ll have fab reading material in line! There’s quite a mix of books and audio here, certain to help keep you busy and keep you satisfied while you wait just a teeny tiny bit longer for your copy to come in.

Audio that lets us listen to Michelle
First of all, if you would rather have Michelle read her book Becoming to you, you should get yourself in the holds queue for that. But while you wait you can still hear Michelle and other First Ladies give important speeches by listening to Great Speeches by First Ladies of the United States. In addition to Michelle you’ll also hear Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy, Laura Bush, and many more. There’s also Ibeyi’s Ash, in particular the track No Man is Big Enough for My Arms, which features clips from Michelle Obama’s speeches.

Two amazing books packed with photos of Michelle
Michelle Obama is one of my style icons. Not only does she always appear stylish and put together, but she often wears affordable, off-the-rack items that regular Janes like me can pick up. Chasing Light and the children’s adaptation Reach Higher are compilations of photos of Michelle taken by former official White House photographer Amanda Lucidon. You’ll catch Michelle tobogganing in China with a Secret Service agent, taking a selfie with a member of the armed forces, greeting heads of state (sometimes with her dogs Bo and Sunny), and harvesting vegetables from the White House Kitchen Garden. Yes, I’m inspired by her style, but I also love seeing how active and engaged she is with folks of all ages and from all walks of life.
   

Books that tell us more about Michelle
Biographies are popular, and as such we’ve got plenty stocked on the shelves to satisfy your need to know more about Michelle. Try one of these books that delve deep into her background, family history, and home life. You’ll also find books where other people talk about why they admire Michelle, and those are worth a read, too.

 

 

 

 

Books that show us how to be a leader
Want to be more like Michelle? One of my favorite types of books to read are books on leadership, especially ones that focus up on how leadership challenges can be very different for women and non-binary folks. These books each take a different track but all of them show you a way to grow your leadership skills and be the boss. There are also stories of women who succeeded despite the odds, and they inspire me every bit as much as Michelle Obama does.
      

One very special bonus book
When I’m missing someone my heart hurts. Like, really badly hurts. One remedy for heartache (even the good kind) is to curl up with a book that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. For me there’s no better pairing than the characters Heart and Brain, and Heart and Brain: Gut Instincts by Nick Seluk of The Awkward Yeti is one of the best compilations. Brain is the pragmatic character, the one who remembers deadlines and obligations. Heart, by contrast, is all about living in the moment and enjoying life. Together they bring together the qualities of common sense and empathy that I respect Michelle Obama for having in great quantity.

So what do you think? Can you get by a little while longer in the holds queue? I know I’ve got a full TBR and while I still very much want to read Becoming, I feel better knowing I have other satisfying reads to occupy my time in line.

Tell Me All About You

Organized Chaos
Modern Cat Lady
The Only Carol I Know: Life with a Throwback Name
I’d Rather Be Reading <insert heart eyes emoji>

In case it wasn’t obvious, those are some of the potential titles for my future memoir. It’ll most likely be about a life buried in unread books, struggling to sit up underneath a pile of cats, all while drinking all the coffee and becoming a world-class snacker.

In case you haven’t heard, this year we’ve organized a reading challenge with new prompts every month. All the details can be found on the library’s website. The March challenge is to read a biography or memoir. As it so happens, there are many memoirs and biographies being published all the time and we’ve chosen a bunch to add to the stacks. Get your library card ready to place a hold, because I’m bringing you some of the newest books making their way through cataloging right this very moment!

Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan by Ted Scheinman
Ted spent his childhood immersed in Jane Austenland. His mom was an Austen scholar, so it seemed normal to sing in an Anglican choir and live completely immersed in the fandom. Then he went off to college and at that time of life when most kids start to try new things, Ted decided to organize the first-ever UNC-Chapel Hill Jane Austen Summer Camp. Oh my crumpets, that sounds pretty amazing to me! Part memoir, part Jane Austen criticism, this short book is perfect for the Jane Austen fan who doesn’t have a lot of time to spare.

Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down: Chasing Myself in the Race Against Time by Ida Keeling with Anita Diggs
What’s one thing you should know about Ida Keeling? She’s over 100 years old. What else should you know? She’s a world-record-holding runner who’s still lacing up her shoes and running. Miss Ida–as she’s known in her Bronx community–has lived through the Depression and the Civil Rights movement, was a single mom to four children, outlived two of her sons who were brutally murdered, and continued on–determined–through it all. For anyone looking for a story of perseverance and faith, you should give this one a read.

Too Afraid to Cry: Memoir of a Stolen Childhood by Ali Cobby Eckermann
Award-winning poet Ali Cobby Eckermann started out life stolen from her family. Born in Australia at the time of certain racist policies, Ali was one of many Aboriginal children forcibly taken from her birth family and “adopted.” Here is her very personal story of abuse and trauma, suffering as an outsider, and her efforts to reconcile with her Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha birth family and their Indigenous community. The book also holds up a lens to America and Canada’s own histories of coerced adoption of Native American children and violence inflicted on Indigenous communities. Ali’s story is peppered with poems that will also be suitable to check off April’s challenge of reading poetry–you’re welcome!

Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: a Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss by Stephanie Wittels Wachs
Harris Wittels was a comedian, actor, writer, producer, musician, and is credited with coining the term “humblebrag,” that thing you do when it sounds like you’re being humble when actually you’re bragging. He was also struggling most of his life with drug addiction and in 2015 he died of a heroin overdose. In this book, his sister Stephanie will break your heart and make you cry just as much as she lifts you up and makes you laugh. This hopeful memoir of addiction, grief, and family is a good follow-up for those of you who read Beautiful Boy and Clean by David Sheff along with us last year.

She Caused a Riot: 100 Unknown Women Who Built Cities, Sparked Revolutions & Massively Crushed It by Hanna Jewell
If you’d rather not dive down into a full-length biography or memoir, let me steer you towards this celebration of kick-ass women you’ve either never heard of or didn’t know that much about. Not your standard collected biography of historically significant women, this one goes beyond the Susan B. Anthonys and Gloria Steinems to introduce readers to the lesser-known badass women of history. Told in an accessible, modern, and often snarky style, the text pairs brilliantly with the illustrations and stylized text that one might find in a modern magazine.

There are soooo many biographies and memoirs to choose from; these are just the brand-spanking newest of the new. Tell me in the comments which book you’re reading for this challenge and what you would title your memoir. And if you post a photo of yourself with your March challenge read and tag it #everettreads to enter our monthly drawing, let me know so I can go like your photo!

Catastrophic Happiness

catastrophic happiness catherine newmanWant to hear something weird? I love reading parenting books, but I’m not a parent. How-tos, essays, memoirs, cartoons, pretty much everything except those photographic encyclopedias that help you diagnose your baby’s latest rash. No. Thanks!

Seriously though, it doesn’t take a parent to appreciate these books and I think reading some of the how-to books makes me a better aunt. The memoirs, however, are what I pick up when I want to see the world through my own mother’s eyes and imagine how different my life would be with littles. I usually go for funny, but I can also handle cute and heartwarming. And I found all of that and more in Catastrophic Happiness by Catherine Newman.

If you read Real Simple magazine you probably recognize the author’s name. Newman is the etiquette columnist and always handles readers’ questions with grace and verve. Yup, sometimes the answer is that you have to stand your ground and be firm with your mother-in-law/child/spouse/co-worker/florist. The same holds true for parenting, which makes me still hold out hope that the editorial staff will eventually let Catherine write a parenting advice column.

Catastrophic Happiness isn’t like most parenting memoirs I’ve read–and trust me, I’ve read a bunch. Most focus on what it’s like to start parenting life with your newborn. Babies and toddlers can provide endless entertainment and joy, so the plethora of anecdotes usually proves meaty enough for a book. Or several.

This is exactly why Catastrophic Happiness is so incredibly awesome. We get to share in the trials and tribulations of the not-so-cute phase of raising kids. The book starts out with Catherine’s son Ben and daughter Birdie already starting school and it follows them up into the start of their teenage years. These are the years that can get messy, or distant, or strained, or just plain…blah? I’m not really sure, but for some reason they aren’t usually the focus of a book. But this is definitely a mistake, as Catherine proves chapter after chapter.

I laughed. I cried. I read so many passages out loud to my husband that I should have contacted the publisher to see if they would let me record the audiobook. Catherine Newman has a particular way with words that will have you writing down quote after quote. She turns a phrase like no other. I wanted to include a passage to illustrate what I mean, but publishers get a little bit Genghis Khan about comparing quotes from an advance reader copy to the finished product, and our finished copy hasn’t yet arrived. You’ll just have to wait and see for yourself!

Catastrophic Happiness hits bookshelves on April 5th, so there’s plenty of time to get a copy for your mom/sister/wife/cousin/friend for Mother’s Day. Regardless of whether or not you’re a parent you should read this one, to yourself or out loud to someone you love.

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.

Let us read cake, cookies and other sweet things (with apologies to Marie Antoinette)

book coverI’m not sure what it means, but every time I‘ve opened a book during the past two months, it seems to have something to do with food. First, I read the memoir Cakewalk by Kate Moses. The photo on the cover should have been a giveaway but I couldn’t put this book down. Moses relates her childhood and young adult years. One wonders how she survived her mismatched parents. Her memories revolve around food, mostly sugar laden, although her life was certainly not sweet. Most chapters end with a recipe connected to her painful life.

book coverThen, I read Aimee Bender’s tale, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, wherein Rose, on her ninth birthday, discovers that she can taste her mother’s emotions in the lemon-chocolate birthday cake. Food then becomes an obstacle for Rose as she navigates through life. Thrown into this mix is her brother, Frank, who must also confront his unusual gift. This is a fascinating look into a disintegrating family. Yet it is uplifting when Rose finally finds a way to confront and put her gift to use.  (There are no recipes in this book.)

After these books, I needed some light reading for a plane ride so I picked up The Secret of Everything by Barbara O’Neal. Tessa, an outdoor adventure leader, is recovering from an accident that took the life of a young woman for whom Tessa was responsible. Tessa’s been recuperating at her hippie father’s home, but she decides to investigate the (fictional) town of Las Ladronas, New Mexico, as a possible new site for an adventure tour. While exploring the area, she experiences déjà vu and memories are starting to surface. She also, of course, finds love – a widower with three young girls. The plot was a bit contrived, but O’Neal’s characters are appealing people with interesting lives and back stories. Yes, there are recipes in this book (most of them breakfast specialties). And there are also some delightful dogs in this story, too.

I also read Jen Lancaster’s latest laugh fest, My Fair Lazy. Although she covered her struggle with food and dieting in Such a Pretty Fat, in My Fair Lazy Lancaster attempts to bring culture into her life, which she labels “Jenaissance.” She and her very patient husband, Fletch, take several food and wine appreciation classes and visit a restaurant specializing in molecular gastronomy, where food is created using blowtorches and liquid nitrogen, rather than ovens and flame. Some of the dishes she describes made my mouth water. 

After finishing these books and raiding the fridge, I set out to redeem myself by reading The Amazing Adventures of DietGirl by Shauna Reid.  This inspiring and humorous story of the author’s experience of going from a very overweight young woman to a healthy slim one seemed to happily break the food spell. 

book coverNow I’m looking for something else to read. Perhaps a mystery, but preferably one without mention of butter burgers, frozen custard or “TastyKakes.” I believe I’ve found it in the gripping Still Missing. Please excuse me but I’ve got to get back to reading this “can’t put down” book.

Suzanne