"The Jon Stewart of the Arabic World"—the creator of The Program, the most popular television show in Egypt’s history—chronicles his transformation from heart surgeon to political satirist, and offers crucial insight into the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Revolution, and the turmoil roiling the modern Middle East, all of which inspired the documentary about his life, Tickling Giants.
Bassem Youssef’s incendiary satirical news program, Al-Bernameg (The Program), chronicled the events of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and the rise of Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi. Youssef not only captured his nation’s dissent but stamped it with his own brand of humorous political criticism, in which the Egyptian government became the prime laughing stock.
Bassem Youssef was an Egyptian cardiac surgeon trying to find a way to move out of Egypt in 2011. He was not politically active until the Arab Spring protests. A friend wanted to have a YouTube series discussing politics and he convinced Bassem to star in it mostly because he wouldn’t have to pay him. Suddenly, the series that they filmed in Bassem’s bathroom was an internet hit. Over the next few years they moved to TV and then to larger networks. The show was a hit. However, making fun of politicians in Egypt isn’t the safest life choice.
In a few years he rose from obscurity to being the most famous entertainer in Egypt to being forced to flee the country.
I loved this audiobook. I had never heard of Bassem Youssef before although he had been on The Daily Show and other U.S. TV shows. He says that he isn’t able to explain Egyptian or Islamic politics well but then explains them in an easy to understand manner. Now I understand who most of the players are and a little bit about what their goals are. His goal was to make fun of them all.
This is a scary book to read because you see so many parallels between Egypt and the path that the United States is on now. In fact, he came to the U.S. just in time to document the rise of Trump. Like Trevor Noah, he points out that Trump follows the same line of thinking as the African dictators. He talks about how people can convince themselves that everything is fine when everything is falling apart around them.
He shows how media can be manipulated to show whatever ‘truth’ the government wants you to believe.
Speaking satirical truth to power cost him his relationship with his family and his ability to go back to his country. His wife stayed with him but he isn’t really sure why. After all, she married a surgeon who a few months later decided that he was going to be a comedian in the country where it is illegal to make fun of the president and it went downhill from there.
There is a new documentary on the festival circuit called Tickling Giants about his life. I want to see it to be able to see many of the sketches that he describes in the audio book.
He is a huge fan of Jon Stewart. They ended up meeting and collaborating. (Or as it was charged in Egypt, he was recruited by Jon Stewart to work for the CIA.) Here’s Jon Stewart’s take on things the first time Bassem got in trouble.
If you want to understand more about the Arab Spring and the aftermath, this is a great book. If you want to know what resistance can look like, listen to this book. He narrates it himself and does a great job telling his story.
About Bassem Youssef
Bassem Raafat Muhammad Youssef is an Egyptian comedian, writer, producer, physician, media critic, and television host. He hosted Al-Bernameg, a satirical news program, from 2011 to 2014.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Nestled in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee, the town of Johnson City saw its first AIDS patient in August 1985. Working in Johnson City was Abraham Verghese, a young Indian doctor specializing in infectious diseases who became, by necessity, the local AIDS expert. Out of his experience comes a startling, ultimately uplifting portrait of the American heartland.
I have been coming across books in the most roundabout ways recently. For March’s 6 Degrees of Separation post I needed a book set in Ethiopia. I thought of Cutting for Stone which I’ve never read so I wasn’t absolutely sure that’s where it was set. I looked it up on Goodreads and saw that the author wrote this book about his life in Tennessee. Was I actually mixing up Ethiopia and Tennessee in my mind? Not exactly. He was in rural east Tennessee at about the same time I was in school there. That intrigued me.
In the late 1980s he finished his residency as an infectious disease specialist in Boston. He decided to take a job in Tennessee for the slower pace and better quality of life. He planned to split his time between a VA nursing home/hospital and a small public hospital.
At the same time he moved to Tennessee, the first AIDS cases were appearing in the area. He had seen AIDS patients in Boston. His experience in infectious disease made him the logical doctor for people to refer patients to in the area. At this point there was no real treatment. All he could do was monitor their blood counts and support them through their secondary diseases. At first the community of AIDS patients was small and he spent a lot of time going into their homes and getting to know them and their families.
The initial patients he saw were gay men who had moved away from the area in order to lead more open lives in big cities. Now they were sick and were coming home for help from their families. There was a huge stigma. AIDS was a curse handed down for sinful behavior in a lot of the minds of the people of the area. Even the local gay community didn’t think it was in their local group. Many nurses refused to work with the patients. Some protested even offering them treatment in the hospital at all since it was ultimately futile.
Dr. Verghese had to confront his own bigotry. He was uncomfortable at first with gay men. He later concerned that he was showing preferential treatment to an elderly couple who had been infected by the husband’s blood transfusion. Was he falling into the “innocent victim” mentality towards AIDS? How did he feel about the man with AIDS-related dementia who had infected both his wife and her sister?
Even though this book was written in 1995, I would recommend it for anyone interested in medical history. This is an account of the front lines of an AIDS epidemic as it moved into an area. He is a very empathetic and compassionate writer who gave so much of himself to the patients that he ended up destroying his own marriage.
About Abraham Verghese
Born of Indian parents who were teachers in Ethiopia, he grew up near Addis Ababa and began his medical training there. When Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed, he completed his training at Madras Medical College and went to the United States for his residency as one of many foreign medical graduates.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
In August 2003, Jim Beaver, a character actor, and his wife Cecily learned what they thought was the worst news possible- their daughter Maddie was autistic. Then six weeks later the roof fell in-Cecily was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer.
Jim immediately began writing a nightly e-mail as a way to keep more than one hundred family and friends up to date about Cecily's condition. Soon four thousand people a day, from all around the world, were receiving them. Initially a cathartic exercise for Jim, the prose turned into an unforgettable journey for his readers.
I came to this book in a roundabout way. In Lauren Graham’s memoir she talks about a friend of hers writing a book. I looked that book up on goodreads. I scrolled down to the comments to see if anyone else liked it. One of the first comments mentioned that he was also friends with the author. I looked over at the icon and saw Jim Beaver’s picture.
My first thought was, “Bobby Fisher wrote a book?” I know that he is not the character that he played on Supernatural but the idea was intriguing. I wanted to read it.
Towards the end of 2003, Beaver and his wife Cecily Adams’s 2 year old daughter Maddie had stopped talking and was having melt downs. She was diagnosed as autistic. They were also in the process of building their dream house. They had moved out of their current house and into a rental until their house was finished. His father was slowly slipping into advanced dementia. Then Cecily was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.
A few days after the diagnosis, he sat down and wrote a group email to family and friends explaining what was going on with Cecily. He started writing nightly updates to the group. People started forwarding his emails to other people who didn’t even know him. I didn’t understand why until I read the book.
The book is a sampling of the emails. They don’t cover every day of the time he wrote from the day of her diagnosis until 1 year later. The emails themselves haven’t been edited though. This is a day by day account of what it is like to watch your spouse die of cancer and what grieving looks like in real time.
That may sound incredibly depressing to read but it isn’t. It is sad but not depressing. He notes the many kindnesses that their friends showed them. He especially talks about the people involved with That 70s Show, where Cecily was working as a casting director. They came over and decorated the house for Christmas for them. One woman who Cecily just knew hated her cleaned their house for them. He talks about what was helpful and what wasn’t. This is a great book for anyone who ever wanted to help someone but didn’t know what to do.
He’s an amazing writer. He was incredibly open about what he was feeling each day. He talks about his fears – of losing his wife, of having to go away to jobs to earn money while his wife was sick, of dealing with a child who was already in crisis. He talks of the joys along the way. He talks about grief hitting you unaware just when you thought you were starting to function again. He remembers his life with his wife –both the good and the bad.
This is a hopeful book about what you can endure if you have to even if you don’t want to. It helps to have a great support structure of friends and family around you like he did. I kept thinking that he must be a great guy to have friends like these.
About Jim Beaver
im Beaver is an actor, playwright, and film historian. Best known as Ellsworth on HBO’s Emmy-award winning series Deadwood and as Bobby Singer on Supernatural, he has also starred in such series as Harper’s Island, John from Cincinnati, and Thunder Alley and appeared in nearly forty motion pictures. He lives with his daughter Madeline in Los Angeles.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version.
At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country.
Wow. I read this book in one sitting. I spent the whole time nodding my head. I got out of bed to start writing this to make of the thoughts flying around my brain. Before reading the book I had heard that it was controversial. After reading it I have no idea why.
This is the story of most of the people I know.
I’ve often summed up my husband and I like this:
My husband is what happens when you educate a hillbilly.
I’m what happens when two educated hillbillies breed.
In my life I’ve lived in Western Pennsylvania, East Tennessee, Central Ohio, and Northeast Ohio. I don’t wander far from Appalachia. Most white people I know have roots somewhere deeper in Appalachia. I had never considered that the reason for this was a migration north of people from coal mining country to the industrial centers farther north in the 40s and 50s even though that fits part of my family history.
“It was not simply that the Appalachian migrants, as rural strangers ‘out of place’ in the city, were upsetting to Midwestern, urban whites. Rather, these migrants disrupted a broad set of assumptions held by northern whites about how white people appeared, spoke, and behaved…the disturbing aspect of hillbillies was their racialness. Ostensibly, there were of the same racial order (whites) as those who dominated economic, political, and social power in local and national arenas. But hillbillies shared many regional characteristics with the southern blacks arriving in Detroit.”
One of the author’s central points is that one of the major problems facing people in these areas is a lack of imagination. I may be an overly educated person but all my coworkers are not. Most are high school graduates who never imagined going on to do any college or ever leaving their hometowns. If no one you know ever leaves, how can someone even imagine that it is an option? There needs to be people to model what healthy relationships look like or what steps you take to go to college in order for someone to aspire to that. The author talks a lot about the very small worldview people have. I keep threatening to buy a world map and teach geography lessons to my coworkers between appointments at work because not only can they not identify some cities as belonging in certain states, they can’t identify certain names as belonging to real states. They’ve never been there so why would they care? They just shrug.
“It’s not like parents and teachers never mention hard work. Nor do they walk around loudly proclaiming that they expect their children to turn out poorly. These attitudes lurk below the surface, less in what people say than in how they act. One of our neighbors was a lifetime welfare recipient, but in between asking my grandmother to borrow her car or offering to trade food stamps for cash at a premium, she’d blather on about the importance of industriousness. ‘So many people abuse the system, it’s impossible for the hardworking people to get the help they need,’ she’d say. This was the construct she’d built in her head: Most of the beneficiaries of the system were extravagant moochers, but she–despite never having worked a day in her life–was an obvious exception.”
Oh yes. I love that one. I know people who have used every government program out there who expound at length about immigrants coming here and getting benefits that “hard working” Americans don’t get. I also found the discussion in the book about how people overestimate how many hours they work because they think they are more industrious than they are fascinating. If they are working so hard (in their minds) and aren’t getting ahead, obviously someone is out to get them. I think this is a big part of the reason why I hate the terms ‘working class’ and ‘working man’. It is like the rest of us magically make a living by waving our hands and the money rains down from on high.
The author’s story is rough. His mother was a drug addict with a never ending stream of boyfriends. He found stability in his Memaw. That wasn’t a given because she was an incredibly unstable person who didn’t model healthy living to her daughter. She got herself together in her later years and was able to help her grandson.
I understood his story completely. Everything that happens to him has happened to someone I know. It hasn’t all happened to the same person but there was nothing in his story that I haven’t heard at least once from someone in casual conversation. I kept pointing out parallels to my husband’s life to him. There is a passage at the end where he talks about his non-hillbilly wife being shocked that he had several bank accounts spread out in different banks. He attributes that to a childhood habit of spreading out his money in several hiding places so no one in his house could steal it all at once. I just handed the book over to the husband at that point. One of the ‘in case of death’ paperwork things I keep meaning to do is to get him to write down all the banks he has accounts in. I’m not talking multiple accounts in a few local banks. I’m talking about small accounts in multiple states that he can’t bring himself to close.
Some of the major criticisms of this book is the idea that the author hates poor people. They accuse him of saying that he worked hard and got out so everyone should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and do it too. I feel like this a lot too. I look at people and think, “You have all the opportunities in the world available to you. You have people who are begging to help you and you just don’t care.” Maybe that isn’t the case in other poor communities but it is true here. Kids graduate having never given a thought to what they want to do with their lives. It isn’t because no one ever asked. It is just pessimism and lethargy. I don’t know how else to explain it. They are smart and capable of doing more than scraping to survive in dead end jobs but it never seems to occur to them that there is more possible in life.
You see this dynamic in the author’s life. He acknowledges that he had good schools with caring teachers who couldn’t help him learn because he was too preoccupied with the chaos of his home life. His high school was poorly rated but he considered that to be at least partially due to a lack of student caring. He talks about good teachers there too. He talks about the programs that are available to help kids go to school but the pessimism of people may make them assume that there is no help available so they don’t look for them. The insularity of the group means that no one talks about family problems (until they are over) so people aren’t getting help. People are suspicious of outsiders so they don’t believe anything an outsider tells them. Change and hope need to come from inside the community.
It seems like a lot of people wanted this book to explain Trump voters to them. It has been touted as the book to read to understand “those people.” They are criticizing it for not explaining them. It doesn’t try to. This is his story. It doesn’t have a political bent to it. It was written before the current election. People need to stop projecting what they want this book to be and see it for what it is.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Bestselling Christian author, activist, and scholar Tony Campolo and his son Bart, an avowed Humanist, debate their spiritual differences and explore similarities involving faith, belief, and hope that they share.
Over a Thanksgiving dinner, fifty-year-old Bart Campolo announced to his Evangelical pastor father, Tony Campolo, that after a lifetime immersed in the Christian faith, he no longer believed in God. The revelation shook the Campolo family dynamic and forced father and son to each reconsider his own personal journey of faith—dual spiritual investigations into theology, faith, and Humanism that eventually led Bart and Tony back to one another.
The last time I read a book by Tony Campolo I ended up in a police manhunt so I was a little concerned about picking up this one. I had heard about Bart Campolo leaving Christianity and working as a Humanist chaplain. It was big news in the Christian community. Either it was seen as proof that you can escape your upbringing or it was seen as proof that the Campolos had always been too liberal anyway so obviously they are going to go astray.
This book comes from the discussions that they had after Bart came out as not believing in God. The book is written in alternating chapters with each man expressing their point of view on a particular topic.
The first thing that surprised me was a preface chapter written by Peggy Campolo, Tony’s wife and Bart’s mom. She talks about how she didn’t identify with Christianity during the early years of the Tony’s ministry while her kids were growing up. She has since become a believer and seems to feel a lot of guilt. She thinks that if she was a Christian while Bart was growing up then he wouldn’t have left as an adult. This is typical of the baggage that gets put on parents if the children leave a religion.
I was frustrated while reading Tony’s chapters. Because Bart has now lived on both sides of the debate, he is able to discuss options openly. Tony freely states that he has never known a life where he wasn’t certain of the presence of God in his life. It is obvious that he sees Bart as a wandering child who he hopes gets back to the right path. In the meantime he not really listening to what he has to say. He just seems to be patting him on the head as he speaks and then saying, “Oh, you don’t mean that.”
“For the Christian parents of positive secular humanists like Bart, however, I have some advice: Take every opportunity to affirm and encourage your children whenever they say or do something that reflects your Kingdom values, and let them know that you see a direct connection between their behavior and the love of God, even if they don’t. Doing so demonstrates that you notice and appreciate your kids’ goodness while maintaining your own understanding of its ultimate source, and also opens up opportunities for you to talk about what gets lost when God drops out of the picture.”
Obviously he is still hung up on the idea that you can’t be a good person if you don’t have a God dictating what is right and what is wrong. Bart does a good job discussing why this isn’t true. Too bad his father wasn’t listening.
Tony also talks a lot about guilt. He doesn’t understand how people without God handle all their guilt. He says he lies awake at night feeling guilty about all the harm he does until he is able to let God take the guilt away from him. I don’t think most people have those kinds of guilty feelings. Has he ever considered that maybe the guilt comes from following a religion that teaches that you are a horrible person?
The idea behind this book was to help families have conversations about some members leaving Christianity. I don’t think this book fosters productive conversation because it felt to me like the humanist was explaining over and over and the Christian was just waiting for him to see things the “right” way again. This might be better for people who need to talk to Christians. Bart gives answers to a lot of the questions that he’s been asked. It could help to have some well thought out answers on hand for the common questions.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Are you ready to see your fixer upper?
These famous words are now synonymous with the dynamic husband-and-wife team Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s Fixer Upper.
The Magnolia Story is the first book from Chip and Joanna, offering their fans a detailed look at their life together. From the very first renovation project they ever tackled together, to the project that nearly cost them everything; from the childhood memories that shaped them, to the twists and turns that led them to the life they share on the farm today.
Chip and Joanna Gaines first met when he stopped by her father’s tire store. Then he was 45 minutes late for their first date with no explanation. He didn’t have a plan for what to do either. This should have made her lose interest in him but he talked to her about his plans for buying and renovating small houses. She was intrigued.
I’ve always been interested in that too. In fact we are working on that ourselves now too. But there is one huge difference. As Chip got more and more houses and started eyeing bigger projects, he started taking on large amounts of debt. As an advocate of trying to be debt-free, that made me cringe. It seemed like he had either no idea of the financial risks that he was taking or he just didn’t care. He talks at one point about Joanna thinking they were broke when they had $1000. He didn’t think they were broke until there was no money left at all. Seriously, this would stressful to read if you didn’t know the ending. I feel like the message here could be interpreted as, “Go wild. Go crazy in debt. It’ll be ok. Someone will come along and fix it for you like magic.”
Don’t do that.
Sure, they bumped along for a while in small houses that they would fix up and then rent out. They did a lot of work to build up their various businesses. But a lot of the original capital came from family money and they got bailed out by rich friends after they messed up their credit. So while I think that this is supposed to read like a rags to riches tale of entrepreneurship, there is always the reminder that there were fairly well off parents in the background who weren’t going to let them crash and burn completely.
I did enjoy the story of their multi-day audition for HGTV that was horrible until they got into a fight over Chip buying a houseboat that didn’t float.
This was a quick read that gives you a glimpse of the back story of a popular TV show. It fleshes out the people involved a little more. I think that Chip comes across as more self-centered and irresponsible than he does on TV. He makes a lot of reckless decisions without consulting his wife that he then expects her to deal with. She goes along eventually and makes it sound like it is all fine with her but there is a bit of a brittle edge to her story telling sometimes. I just want to ask her, “Girl, you have an emergency fund in your name only for you and all those babies, right? Because this man is going to do something catastrophic sometime.”
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”
At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.
With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”
I’m not a big fan of celebrity memoirs. I’m also not a big fan of memoirs written by people in their 20s. So why would I listen to this audiobook?
I took a chance on it because I figured that Anna Kendrick’s public persona is funny so maybe the book would be too. I was right.
This isn’t a straight biography. Her life isn’t told in strict chronological order. This is more a series of stories that illustrates different points in her life. I hadn’t realized that she was in a Broadway musical as a kid. She talks about her life in California before she could get a job. You find out what changes when you get famous and what doesn’t. You find out how Twilight films pay for your life while you are doing press for the film that got you an Oscar nomination but didn’t pay much.
I recommend this one on audio to hear her read it. This book also has the best book group discussion questions ever.
If you want a fun, short book about the ups and downs of show business with a large dose of anxiety thrown in, this is the book for you.
Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Betweenby Lauren Graham on November 29th 2016 Pages: 224 Published byBallantine Books
In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.
In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway.
Despite my protestations that I don’t like celebrity memoirs, I listened to another one.
I never realized that they talked fast on Gilmore Girls until I read a review of the series. I figured that’s just how people talked. (Likewise, I found out that they speak in Chinese on Firefly long after I watched the whole series. I’m slow on the uptake.)
But when I started this audiobook on my standard 1.5 times the speed setting on my iPod, it was quick. I learned to listen fast enough for it though after a minute or so. If you thought the show was quick, you may want to slow this audiobook down.
Like Anna Kendrick, I didn’t know anything about Lauren Graham outside her roles. This is also not a straight chronological memoir but a series of thoughts on different points in her life. She talks about being on shows with younger cast members led her to feeling old and giving advice that isn’t always appreciated. For example, are you sure that’s a body part you want to pierce and/or post a picture of on the internet?
She talks about moving into writing from acting. This part can sound a little too much like an advertisement to buy her novel.
I wish for the audiobook they had described the photos that she is referring to in the book instead of just saying, “See photo 16 for how I looked that day.” Not helpful.
Overall, this was a fast (4 hour) listen and fun if you are a fan. If you haven’t watched Gilmore Girls, skip it because you’ll get confused. There is a lot of talking about a scene here or there and if you haven’t got a basic familiarity with the show, it would be boring.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Over the course of two decades, John Hargrove worked with 20 different whales on two continents and at two of SeaWorld's U.S. facilities. For Hargrove, becoming an orca trainer fulfilled a childhood dream. However, as his experience with the whales deepened, Hargrove came to doubt that their needs could ever be met in captivity. When two fellow trainers were killed by orcas in marine parks, Hargrove decided that SeaWorld's wildly popular programs were both detrimental to the whales and ultimately unsafe for trainers.
After leaving SeaWorld, Hargrove became one of the stars of the controversial documentary Blackfish. The outcry over the treatment of SeaWorld's orca has now expanded beyond the outlines sketched by the award-winning documentary, with Hargrove contributing his expertise to an advocacy movement that is convincing both federal and state governments to act.
As I listened to this book written by a former orca trainer at Sea World, the analogy that kept coming to mind was alien abduction. Humans have taken orcas out of their natural environment by force. They are made to live in cells with others of their species with whom they do not share a language. Several died before the exact requirements for keeping them were figured out. Humans control when they eat, when they play, and when they are bred. Humans separate them from their offspring even though we know orcas have complex matriarchal families.
This is a fitting analogy because eventually the author discusses it too. Seen in this light, it is impossible to justify the practice of using whales and dolphins for entertainment.
The author started as a true believer in Sea World. From the age of 6 he dedicated his life to becoming an orca trainer. He loved the whales. He believed that some of the whales cared for him too. But he came to realize that no matter how close the relationship between whale and trainer was, at the end of the day he was still their prison guard. It is only natural that an intelligent creature kept under these conditions will try to fight back.
The book opens with the detailed account of his attack by a whale. He is clear that the whale chose to let him live. His break with Sea World came after the 2009 and 2010 deaths of trainers. In each instance Sea World’s public statements blamed the trainers for making mistakes. After studying the incidents it was clear to him that they did not and that Sea World was lying to hide the fact that this aggression was a result of psychological stress to the whales.
He discusses many types of aggression and health problems that result from captivity. One telling story concerns the baby whales. They swim nonstop for several months after birth. This is because in the wild orcas never stop moving. They have to learn to stop and float still in the tiny Sea World pools.
Since the animals are not able to released, he discusses options for how to care for the current whales in a more humane way.
Even if you’ve seen Blackfish, I’d recommend this book to get a better idea about the lives of the whales from someone who has lived on both sides of the issue.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
“Rusty Young was backpacking in South America when he heard about Thomas McFadden, a convicted English drug trafficker who ran tours inside Bolivia’s notorious San Pedro prison. Intrigued, the young Australian journalist went to La Paz and joined one of Thomas’s illegal tours. They formed an instant friendship and then became partners in an attempt to record Thomas’s experiences in the jail. Rusty bribed the guards to allow him to stay and for the next three months he lived inside the prison, sharing a cell with Thomas and recording one of the strangest and most compelling prison stories of all time.”
Thomas McFadden was a cocaine smuggler. When he was double crossed by the Bolivian officials that he had bribed for safe passage, he ended up in San Pedro. San Pedro was an unusual prison. You needed to pay an entrance fee to be allowed inside. Thomas had had all his money taken by the police so he was already in trouble. He also needed to prove that a black native English speaker was British and not an American spy.
Once inside no services were provided. You weren’t assigned a cell or given meals. Cells needed to be purchased. Meals were bought in restaurants run out of cells or prisoners cooked in their own kitchens. Ingredients were bought from women who ran stores out of their husbands’ cells.
Women and children lived in the prison with their husbands and fathers. They were free to leave every day to go to work or school.
There were five neighborhoods in the prison. The most exclusive had an entrance outside the main prison gates. That was were the politicians and drug lords lived. Thomas couldn’t afford that. By getting money wired from friends he was able to eventually buy a cell in one of the two nicer neighborhoods inside. These had gates that closed at 9 PM to keep the bad people out. When you buy a cell, there was a real estate transfer that was recorded in the neighborhood logs. You got a deed. It could be mortgaged if needed. Some people were speculators who bought several cells. They rented them out or used extra cells to run businesses. Thomas’ business was giving tours. He was the best tour guide and word of mouth in the back packing community made him famous.
Cocaine production was a major industry in the prison. The best cocaine in Bolivia was made there. That was what a lot of the tourists came for. Some stayed for months.
I had never imagined that a prison would be run like this. Thomas was here for several years in the 1990s. His story of learning to adapt and thrive in this environment is intriguing. His attempts to move through the Bolivian legal system are frustrating. This is a story that you haven’t read before.
“Prize-winning journalist and the co-author of smash New York Times bestseller I Am Malala, Christina Lamb, now tells the inspiring true story of another remarkable young hero: Nujeen Mustafa, a teenager born with cerebral palsy, whose harrowing journey from war-ravaged Syria to Germany in a wheelchair is a breathtaking tale of fortitude, grit, and hope that lends a face to the greatest humanitarian issue of our time, the Syrian refugee crisis. For millions around the globe, sixteen-year-old Nujeen Mustafa embodies the best of the human spirit. Confined to a wheelchair because of her cerebral palsy and denied formal schooling in Syria because of her illness, Nujeen taught herself English by watching American soap operas. When her small town became the epicenter of the brutal fight between ISIS militants and US-backed Kurdish troops in 2014, she and her family were forced to flee.”
I finished this audiobook a few days ago just as the news was coming out about the Syrian government retaking Aleppo. If you don’t have a good understanding of the causes of the conflict in Syria or the history of the Kurds, read this book.
Nujeen’s family was well off. Her siblings are all older than she is. One is a director living in Germany. The rest were university students or graduates. She was unable to go to school because of her cerebral palsy. They lived in a fifth floor apartment with no elevator so she almost never left the house. She learned by watching TV. She is very smart. She taught herself English by watching Days of Our Lives.
When the rebellion against Assad started, life didn’t change too much for her family. They didn’t think it would because they lived in such a safe city – Aleppo. Her sister joined in the protests at her university until the regime’s response became too violent. Eventually they moved to their other house in Manbij.
They got used to the hardships. When her brother visited from Germany, he was horrified at their living conditions and what they were now accepting as normal. They started to make plans to leave.
Her insistence that live didn’t change that much for them and that no one thought that anything bad could happen in a city as safe as Aleppo was upsetting. I kept thinking that someday we’ll be telling this story about the U.S. I had to sit this audiobook aside for a bit because it was making me really depressed. I listened to it on the way to work one morning and was on the verge of tears all day. I finished it by listening to it in large sections on the way to and from large family gatherings so I didn’t have time to dwell as soon as I finished listening.
“We will just be numbers while the tyrant is engraved in history.” Nujeen wondering why history only remembers the names of the dictators and not their victims.
The family first left for Turkey and then the children headed on to Europe. I would love to hear this story from her sister Nasreen’s perspective. Nujeen was a teenager who had never left the house. Nasreen was in charge of her. It sounds like she drove poor Nasreen to distraction with her excitement about being out in the world. Nasreen was trying to get them through hostile countries and Nujeen was bubbling over with how exciting it all was. She did realize that there were times that Nasreen just wanted her to shut up.
They went through Turkey and then took an inflatable boat illegally to Greece. Whether or not to take her wheelchair on the boat was a major point of contention. They made the trip on the same day as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi drowned trying the trip from farther down the coast. From there they moved country to country to Germany to meet their brother just as the countries in Europe were starting to close their borders to refugees.
Nujeen talks about how her status as an English speaking refugee in a wheelchair led to a lot of interviews. One of them made its way into this John Oliver piece.
I enjoyed Nujeen’s story because she is a very smart and very sassy teenager. That comes through in the writing. She’s funny. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to put a human face on the humanitarian crisis.
“Walking his two young children to school every morning, Thad Carhart passes an unassuming little storefront in his Paris neighborhood. Intrigued by its simple sign — Desforges Pianos — he enters, only to have his way barred by the shop’s imperious owner. Unable to stifle his curiosity, he finally lands the proper introduction, and a world previously hidden is brought into view. Luc, the atelier’s master, proves an indispensable guide to the history and art of the piano. Intertwined with the story of a musical friendship are reflections on how pianos work, their glorious history, and stories of the people who care for them, from amateur pianists to the craftsmen who make the mechanism sing.”
This book starts out with a mystery. How does a small shop that repairs pianos survive in a neighborhood that isn’t around any other music stores? The author is an American living in France, is fluent in French, and played the piano as a child. He uses the excuse of asking if they know of any place to find a used piano to get into the store. He is turned away for weeks with the excuse that they will let him know if they hear of any used pianos. Finally, a new worker, Luc, lets him know that he needs an introduction from a current customer to be allowed in the store. Once he gains that password he is let into the back of the store where they keep an ever rotating collection of used pianos. Luc takes on the task of finding the perfect used piano for the author’s family.
In between the story of learning how to be accepted in a very French establishment, the author tells the history of the piano. We hear about trying to pick up the piano again as an adult. He introduces us to people trying to make the most perfect piano possible. He compares learning the piano as a child in France with the lessons that he continued to take when his family moved back to America. He also discovers all the musicians that inhabit the world around him.
This is a quiet book that had a fascinating amount of history in it. I learned more about how pianos work here than in years of music lessons.
“Steve Hely, writer for The Office and American Dad!, and recipient of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, presents a travel book about his journey through Central and South America. Part travel book, part pop history, part comic memoir, Hely’s writing will make readers want to reach for their backpack and hiking boots.The Wonder Trail is the story of Steve’s trip from Los Angeles to the bottom of South America, presented in 102 short chapters. The trip was ambitious – Steve traveled through Mexico City, ancient Mayan ruins, the jungles and coffee plantations and remote beaches of Central America, across the Panama Canal, by sea to Colombia, to the wild Easter celebration of Popayán, to the Amazon rainforest, the Inca sites of Cuzco and Machu Picchu, to the Galápagos Islands, the Atacama Desert of Chile, and down to the jagged and wind-worn land of Patagonia at the very end of the Western Hemisphere. Steve’s plan was to discover the weird, wonderful, and absurd in Central and South America, to seek and find the incredible, delightful people and experiences that came his way. And the book that resulted is just as fun. A blend of travel writing, history, and comic memoir, The Wonder Trail will inspire, inform, and delight.”
I loved this book. I listened to the audio and the author’s enthusiasm for his trip was infectious. He was so excited that he got to spend time fishing in the Panama Canal, for example. He set off on this trip with no set plan other than a few dates where he would be meeting up with friends at a specific spot. I’m never brave (or crazy) enough to travel like that. He’s the kind of traveler who always finds interesting people to talk to in bars. They tell the best stories.
The other thing I loved about this book is that it led me to other books. The author read a lot of books set in and about South America. He listed many of them. Since I was listening to the audio it was hard to remember a lot of them but I did mutter some names over and over until I got to a place where I could write them down. In fact, I’ve already read one of his recommendations and it was as exciting as he promised it would be.
If you are looking to read more books set in South America, this is a great place to start.
“In 2009, New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James took a leap that many people dream about: she sold her house, took a sabbatical from her job as a Shakespeare professor, and moved her family to Paris. With no classes to teach, no committee meetings to attend, no lawn to mow or cars to park, Eloisa revels in the ordinary pleasures of life—discovering corner museums that tourists overlook, chronicling Frenchwomen’s sartorial triumphs, walking from one end of Paris to another. She copes with her Italian husband’s notions of quality time; her two hilarious children, ages eleven and fifteen, as they navigate schools—not to mention puberty—in a foreign language; and her mother-in-law Marina’s raised eyebrow in the kitchen (even as Marina overfeeds Milo, the family dog). “
This is her memoir about her family’s year in Paris. It was developed from her Facebook posts so it contains mainly short snippets of information about her days interspersed with longer essays.
She is an American who is married to an Italian man. They live in New Jersey and have 2 kids. They move to Paris and enroll the kids in an Italian language school because they are fluent. Her son is taking classes like architectural drawing that he isn’t interested in so he doesn’t do the work. Her daughter is now a child who is well acquainted with principals’ offices on two continents. Eloisa walks around the city sampling the food and getting mad that her husband is losing weight as fast as she is gaining it.
“I asked if Alessandro would pick up some of the spectacular chocolate mousse made by a patisserie on the nearby rue Richer. His response: “I thought you were on a diet.” These seven words rank among the more imprudent things he has said to me in the long years of our marriage.”
The Saga of Milo
Background – They had a Chihuahua named Milo. He used to fly back and forth from the U.S. to Italy with them when they visited her husband’s family. But Milo got fat. He got stranded in Italy because he was too heavy to fly back to the U.S. in the cabin. So Milo has been staying with Italian Grandma until he loses weight. Yeah, it’s not happening. Occasionally she reports in on Milo’s vet visits with Grandma.
“Apparently the vet has suggested vegetables, so for dinner Milo is having lightly steamed broccoli tossed in just a touch of butter, and some diet dog food steeped in homemade chicken broth.”
I have these clients.
“Milo has been back to the vet for a follow-up visit. To Marina’s dismay, her Florentine vet labeled Milo obese, even after she protested that ‘he never eats.’ Apparently the vet’s gaze rest thoughtfully on Milo’s seal-like physique, and then he said, ‘He may be telling you that, but we can all see he’s fibbing.'”
I have never been that brave.
“Marina said today the first thing she plans to do back in Florence is find a new vet. That nasty vet who told her Milo is obese, she said, is too young and doesn’t understand Milo’s emotional problems.”
I read a lot of the Milo sections to my coworkers. They thought they were hysterical. Yes, this is our life.
“Like so many others, David Lebovitz dreamed about living in Paris ever since he first visited the city in the 1980s. Finally, after a nearly two-decade career as a pastry chef and cookbook author, he moved to Paris to start a new life. Having crammed all his worldly belongings into three suitcases, he arrived, hopes high, at his new apartment in the lively Bastille neighborhood. But he soon discovered it’s a different world en France. From learning the ironclad rules of social conduct to the mysteries of men’s footwear, from shopkeepers who work so hard not to sell you anything to the etiquette of working the right way around the cheese plate, here is David’s story of how he came to fall in love with—and even understand—this glorious, yet sometimes maddening, city.”
This is the book the husband would have written if he lived in France. He is the person who said halfway through our trip to France that it would be a wonderful country if there were no people in it. His favorite French vacation story is the time we watched an older French woman beat a disabled British tourist with an umbrella because he didn’t give his seat up to her. He learned that parapluie is umbrella from that incident.
We once had a black, female, French neighbor to whom the husband had to explain several times that while the people in our small town might in fact be both racist and sexist, what was getting her in trouble was being French. No, it wasn’t ok to park in the fire lane and then cut in line at WalMart because she was parked in the fire lane, for example.
David Lebovitz had this same frustration with French people when he moved to Paris. Why are they always cutting in line? Why won’t they help you in a store? Why does it take so long to accomplish everyday tasks?
This book is hysterically funny. He is a cookbook author whose new French apartment had a tiny kitchen and suspect plumbing.
Eventually he learned to adapt and thrive in his new city. He learned to cut in line with the best of them. He started dressing up to take out the garbage. That’s when he knew he was home.
There are lots of recipes in this book. I even made one. I know! I’m shocked too. I almost never make recipes in books. I made the fig and olive tapenade though and it was scrumptious. I even took a picture of it as proof but it looks like a glob of clumpy black stuff on some bread. Yummy food photography is not a skill I have.
“Leah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost. That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.”
Leah Remini is the perfect person to write this tell all book about the inner workings of The Church of Scientology. She was brought into the religion as a child when her mother joined. She was taken out of school and moved to Florida in order to work at retreat center for Scientologists. She progressed through the religion as she started her acting career. As she became more famous, she was given more and more opportunities to promote her faith.
She knew that she was working to clear the planet. She was part of saving the world. If that meant that she needed to go to the center and do her courses for hours a day, she did it. If it meant giving millions of dollars for church activities, she went along. She faced interrogations based on reports that people wrote about her. She was even thrown off a boat once. It didn’t faze her.
Through it all she remained a true believer
Then she was invited to be part of the elite group of Scientologists who grouped around Tom Cruise. That was when she started to see hypocrisy. She saw people how weren’t behaving like the church demanded and nothing was being done about it. She noticed that people were disappearing and no one would talk about it. She decided that she needed to speak up to save her church — and they silenced her. Eventually she was declared to be a Suppressive Person who no Scientologist is allowed to associate with. This is a horrific punishment for a person whose entire life revolved around the church for thirty years and whose entire family are members.
That’s when she decided to speak out publicly.
I listened to the audio version of this book and I think that was a good choice. She reads her own story and you can hear the emotions brought up. There is sadness for her lost life and anger at the people who deceived her. There is love for her family who decided to stand by her.
My only issue with the audio is that got slow in the middle. She spends a lot of time detailing growing up in Scientology. It was necessary information to have to understand what happened later but it didn’t keep my interest. I actually put this audio down for several months and didn’t intend to go back to it. I only listened again because I finished another book and didn’t have anything else with me while in the car. I’m glad I picked it back up. The last third of the book was very compelling.
I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about Scientology or anyone who is in the mood for a different look at a celebrity memoir.
“In a time of death and terror, Leymah Gbowee brought Liberia’s women together–and together they led a nation to peace. As a young woman, Gbowee was broken by the Liberian civil war, a brutal conflict that tore apart her life and claimed the lives of countless relatives and friends. As a young mother trapped in a nightmare of domestic abuse, she found the courage to turn her bitterness into action, propelled by her realization that it is women who suffer most during conflicts–and that the power of women working together can create an unstoppable force. In 2003, the passionate and charismatic Gbowee helped organize and then led the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a coalition of Christian and Muslim women who sat in public protest, confronting Liberia’s ruthless president and rebel warlords, and even held a sex strike. With an army of women, Gbowee helped lead her nation to peace.”
War came over Liberia in waves. First Charles Taylor took power and then a group of rebels fought him. Each group terrorized the citizens. The soldiers were boys with guns who were told to take what they needed as they moved through the country. They murdered and stole and raped their way across the country.
Leymah Gbowee had just graduated from high school when the fighting started. She had a bright future ahead of her and it all collapsed. Suddenly, getting food and water and a safe place to sleep was the only priorities. She went from being an aspiring doctor to being a mother of four children trapped in an abusive relationship in a few years. She got a job working with trauma counselors during a time of relative peace. She loved the work and was able to move into working with women who were the most impacted by the fighting.
When the war started again she mobilized the women in the capital and in the refugee camps to stage sit ins to protest for peace. She claims that her story shows how God worked in Liberia through the women’s prayer. I say that it shows the exact opposite. The mass protests (and prayers) were not effective until they were paired with direct political action. They would protest for weeks and then she’d get mad because nothing was happening. At this point they would get in the faces of the men who were obstructing the peace and cause change to happen.
To give all the credit for this to God erases the power and bravery of the women who stepped up and said, “Enough!”
This isn’t a fairy tale about bringing peace. Their world was cruel and heartbreaking. Leymah sacrificed her family over and over. She is open about drinking to cope with what her life had become. This book was published in 2011 just before she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.
A documentary about her work called Pray the Devil Back To Hell was made. You can watch it for free on Amazon. It puts faces to the women who she writes about.
I’d recommend this for anyone who loves women’s history and the power of women to demand change in the world.
“The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed. Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.”
This book is amazing. That is all. Go preorder it.
I was reading this on my Kindle app and was highlighting like crazy. Trevor Noah has been an outsider all his life. In South Africa under apartheid there were four racial categories – white, black, colored, and Indian. Colored people were the descendants of interracial relationships in the past. There was no category for 50/50 black/white children because it couldn’t legally happen. He chose to identify as black because that’s what his mother was but he wasn’t accepted there either.
Growing up both defined by and outside of such a strict racial hierarchy sharpened his insights.
“That is the curse of being black and poor, and it is a curse that follows you from generation to generation. My mother calls it “the black tax.” Because the generations who came before you have been pillaged, rather than being free to use your skills and education to move forward, you lose everything just trying to bring everyone behind you back up to zero.”
“British racism said, “If the monkey can walk like a man and talk like a man, then perhaps he is a man.” Afrikaner racism said, “Why give a book to a monkey?”
He talks about history when describing why having a friend named Hitler wasn’t considered strange.
“Every country thinks their history is the most important, and that’s especially true in the West. But if black South Africans could go back in time and kill one person, Cecil Rhodes would come up before Hitler. If people in the Congo could go back in time and kill one person, Belgium’s King Leopold would come way before Hitler. If Native Americans could go back in time and kill one person, it would probably be Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson.”
“Holocaust victims count because Hitler counted them. Six million people killed. We can all look at that number and rightly be horrified. But when you read through the history of atrocities against Africans, there are no numbers, only guesses. It’s harder to be horrified by a guess.”
This is the story of growing up illegally because his mother fought to make a place for him even before the fall of apartheid. She was a visionary. However, even after apartheid there wasn’t a place for him to make a legal living as easily as it was to make an illegal one in the townships. He talks about the saying about teaching a man to fish vs giving him a fish. He points out that it doesn’t work if you don’t also help him get a fishing pole.
This isn’t the story of how he became a comedian or how he ended up taking over for Jon Stewart as the host of The Daily Show. That all comes later. This is the story of the world that shaped him into the person he is today. It is funny. It is horrifying. It is necessary reading.
“When Paul Graham was suddenly diagnosed with a serious wheat allergy at the age of thirty-six, he was forced to say goodbye to traditional pasta, pizza, sandwiches, and more. Gone, too, were some of his favorite hobbies, including brewing beer with a buddy and gorging on his wife’s homemade breads. Struggling to understand why he and so many others had become allergic to wheat, barley, rye, oats, and other dietary staples, Graham researched the production of modern wheat and learned that not only has the grain been altered from ancestral varieties but it’s also commonly added to thousands of processed foods. In writing that is effortless and engaging, Paul explores why incidence of the disease is on the rise while also grappling with an identity crisis—given that all his favorite pastimes involved wheat in some form.”
This is an unflinchingly honest account of what it is like to give up one of the things that you enjoy most in life. Paul Graham loves to eat. He loved bread in all its forms. He loved beer. Suddenly he found out that those foods were behind a sudden illness that caused him to lose 25 pounds and end up hospitalized.
The honesty of the writing can certain come across as whiny, especially for those of us who have had restrictive diets by choice or necessity for long enough to have moved past the first stages of grief. He laments what it means now to travel without being able to eat anything and everything on a menu. Eventually he learns to move past that and see that there is life after allergies.
“But the most sensitive have also come to know something that “normal” eaters do not often have occasion to consider: to have anyone make food for you is an implicit extension of trust. The more serious the consequences, the greater the confidence one puts in the cook.”
Yes! I can be a nervous wreck when we go to new restaurants. Honestly, I only implicitly trust food that I make myself for the husband because of his allergy. The author laments people disrupting the orderliness of buffets so he can’t be sure anything is safe for him. I can relate totally.
He discusses the privilege that he has as a fairly well off person with the skills and time to cook from scratch in order to accommodate his new diet. He wonders how people how have to survive on prepared food do it. The answer seems to be – not well according to the research. He points out the irony that the foods that were once considered only good enough for poor people are now the rare grains and ingredients that cost more than wheat.
I’d recommend this book for any food lover or person interested in knowing what it is like to live with food allergies.
Book received in exchange for review from BloggingforBooks.com
“Saving Delaney is the heartwarming true story of a baby who is diagnosed with Down Syndrome and the unconventional family who fought for her right to life. Andrea Ott-Dahl, who with her partner Keston Ott-Dahl has with two other children, agreed to act as a pregnancy surrogate for a wealthy Silicon Valley family. When pre-natal testing revealed the baby would be born with Down Syndrome, Andrea was urged to abort the child. Instead, the Ott-Dahls chose to keep and raise the daughter they would call Delaney, overcoming their fears while navigating legal, medical and emotional challenges.”
I’m not going to lie. I read this book for the chocolate.
I was at BEA and the authors were signing right next to another author I was in line for. When I finished they had a short line and the BEA worker said that they were handing out chocolate with the book. That got my attention. I hadn’t been interested in the book because I don’t like babies. I’m also pro-choice and didn’t care to read a pro-life screed. Turns out I’m really more pro-chocolate than anything. I went up and got a copy of the book. Delaney even signed it for me herself.
Now I’m glad that I read this book.
The book is told from Keston’s viewpoint. When her mother died when Keston was in her early 40s, she went through a bit of a wild time. She broke up with her long term partner and decided to just have fun for a while. She wasn’t planning on meeting a woman in her late 20s with two young children and falling in love. She certainly wasn’t planning for her new girlfriend to decide that she needed to be a surrogate for another couple.
Keston had always had a phobia about people with disabilities. This view was formed when she did some community service in a residential care facility. Since that time she had actively avoided any contact.
Trying to get pregnant as a surrogate wasn’t easy for Andrea. Tensions rose between the Ott-Dahls, the prospective mothers, and the sperm donors as months passed with no pregnancy. Right when they were about to give up, Andrea got pregnant.
Routine prenatal testing showed abnormalities early. Andrea was the biological mother. An egg donor was not used. Now the question was, could she be made to abort her biological child if she signed a contract stating that the prospective mothers got to decide about any health concerns to the child? Should they keep a child with Down’s Syndrome knowing Keston’s issues with disabilities?
This book is the story of growing up and growing together. It is standing up for your family in the face of pressures from all sides. It is about learning to overcome your prejudices and convincing others to do the same.
Regardless of your personal opinions on abortion or surrogacy, I’d recommend reading this book. It gives the perspective of people wrestling with the tough choices that come with assisted reproduction that aren’t usually heard.
“Comedian Zach Anner opens his frank and devilishly funny book, If at Birth You Don’t Succeed, with an admission: he botched his own birth. Two months early, underweight and under-prepared for life, he entered the world with cerebral palsy and an uncertain future. So how did this hairless mole-rat of a boy blossom into a viral internet sensation who’s hosted two travel shows, impressed Oprah, driven the Mars Rover, and inspired a John Mayer song? (It wasn’t “Your Body is a Wonderland.”)”
I have a confession. I hate YouTube. If I am forced to watch a video because of a deep interest in the subject, it better be captioned so I don’t have to turn the sound on my iPad on. It is no wonder that I’d never heard of Zach Anner before reading this book. It is also a testament to my love for his story that I’ve watched several of his YouTube videos and shared them with others.
Zach has cerebral palsy which causes him to have limited fine motor skills and poor balance. He describes his legs as mostly decoration. He has a lazy eye and his eyes don’t track which makes it difficult for him to read. He also has a razor-sharp mind, a wild sense of humor, and the compulsive need to express himself through pop culture references. This leads to a laugh out loud funny memoir about the unexpected turns his life has taken.
The book is not organized chronologically. I appreciated that. How many memoirs have you read where you know something interesting happens in the author’s twenties but first you have to suffer through the minutia of their childhood for many, many chapters? Here we start on a high note. He entered an online competition to win a spot on a reality show on OWN, Oprah’s network. The prize? His own TV show on the network.
His video went viral when it was discovered on Reddit and adopted as the favorite by 4chan purely because of the spelling of his name. He went on to win his own travel show on OWN. From there you can only go downhill through cancellation and strangers asking, “Didn’t you used to be….?” in stores. He describes how he moved to YouTube to make the realistic traveling with disabilities show that he wanted to make.
Along the way we learn about his attempts to find love, his love for music, his time working at Epcot policing other people’s disabilities, and his failures in adaptive P.E. class in 4th grade. Each story is hysterical but ends with a life lesson that manages to be uplifting without being sappy.
This is best experienced by listening to the audiobook. Zach narrates it himself. I can’t imagine this book without his upbeat and charming narration or without listening to himself crack himself up retelling the adventures that he’s had.
One of the first videos Zach talks about making is this one where his friends torture him at a trampoline park. I had to look it up.
It is even funnier when you hear the background story of what went into making it.
I will be recommending this book to EVERYONE! Do yourself a favor and get the audiobook and step into Zach’s world.