Tag Archives For: nonfiction

16 Dec, 2016

Marching Powder

/ posted in: Reading Marching Powder Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America's Strangest Jail by Rusty Young, Thomas McFadden
on May 1st 2004
Pages: 400
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Bolivia
Goodreads

“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.

14 Dec, 2016

Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair

/ posted in: Reading Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair Nujeen: One Girl's Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair by Nujeen Mustafa, Christina Lamb
on October 11th 2016
Pages: 304
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Harper Wave
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Syria
Goodreads

“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.

12 Dec, 2016

Becoming Nicole

/ posted in: Reading Becoming Nicole Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt
on October 20th 2015
Pages: 279
Published by Random House
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Maine
Goodreads

“The inspiring true story of a transgender girl, her identical twin brother, and an ordinary American family’s extraordinary journey to understand, nurture, and celebrate the uniqueness in us all, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning science reporter for The Washington Post.”


Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted identical twin boys at birth.  They were named Jonas and Wyatt.  Starting around age 2, Wyatt started showing a strong preference for stereotypically female toys, clothes, and activities.  He started asking about why people thought he was a boy.

I did enjoy the discussion of prenatal development that attempt to explain how identical twins can turn out so differently.  Different positioning in utero can influence the availability of hormones to each twin, for example.

Mrs. Maines accepted what Wyatt was trying to tell her at an early age but Mr. Maines did not.

This section of the book was frustrating for me to listen to because there seemed to be so much misogyny involved.  It seemed like the reason that Mr. Maines fought this for so long and so hard is that he had a hard time with a son of his preferring female things over male things.  The book talks about how he wanted to play sports and hunt with his sons.  Well, a girl child could do those things also.  That was never mentioned.  It was either there was going to be a rough-and-tumble boy or a sweet little princess girl.  For a book about trans issues, the discussion of gender roles seemed very inflexible.

Wyatt’s classmates didn’t have a problem with any of this through elementary school.  When it came time for middle school, the decision was made after talking to teachers, doctors, and counselors to have a legal name change to Nicole and to let her wear feminine clothing to school.  This more public acknowledgement of Nicole’s transgender identity started to become controversial.

A Maine anti-LGBT group got involved in protesting against her.  A grandfather of another student in the school told his grandson that if he ever saw Nicole go into the girls’ bathroom, he was to follow her in there because he had every right to be in there too.

It always comes down to the bathrooms.  Why is that?

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It makes me wonder if I’ve been using public restrooms wrong this whole time.  Are we supposed to be getting naked and cavorting around the stalls?  What do people imagine is going on?

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Amazingly, the “logic” always seems to go like this:

  1. Letting transgender people use the bathroom they identify with is the same as letting any random person choose any bathroom they feel like going into on any given day.
  2. So, cis heterosexual men will take advantage of this opportunity to go into women’s restroom where (we must presume) they are imagining naked women lining up for their perusal.
  3.  This will lead to rape.

So, if I’m following the logic correctly, all we can fix all this and still let transgender people go to the bathroom in peace.  All we need to do is:

  1. Make cis heterosexual psychosexually disturbed men use a private restroom of their own — and —-
  2. Teach these same men not to rape people

Problem solved!  Notice that nowhere in here are transgender people a public hazard AT ALL.

Anyway, instead of using my logic, the school district banned Nicole from the girl’s restroom and made her be monitored by an adult at all times.  This was supposed to be for her safety to keep the other student who was harassing her away but it punished her instead of dealing with his harassment.  After trying to work out a solution, the Maines moved and filed suit against the district.

The lawsuit worked its way up to the Maine Supreme Court where they finally won a ruling that kids in school in Maine are allowed to use a restroom that conforms to their gender identity.


I finished this audiobook a few days before HBO released The Trans List, which includes an interview with Nicole.  In this trailer, she is youngest woman who is talking about bathrooms.  I watched the documentary.  It is very good.  It is only an hour long so if you have access to it you should definitely watch.

 

29 Nov, 2016

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank

/ posted in: Reading The Piano Shop on the Left Bank The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier by Thad Carhart
on March 12th 2002
Pages: 268
Genres: History, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: France
Goodreads

“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.

 

25 Nov, 2016

The Wonder Trail

/ posted in: Reading The Wonder Trail The Wonder Trail: True Stories from Los Angeles to the End of the World by Steve Hely
on June 14th 2016
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Travel
Published by DUTTON
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“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.

18 Nov, 2016

Brave New Weed

/ posted in: Reading Brave New Weed Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis by Joe Dolce
on October 4th 2016
Pages: 288
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Harper Wave
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“The former editor-in-chief of Details and Star adventures into the fascinating “brave new world” of cannabis, tracing its history and possible future as he investigates the social, medical, legal, and cultural ramifications of this surprisingly versatile plant.
Pot. Weed. Grass. Mary Jane. We all think we know what cannabis is and what we use it for. But do we? Our collective understanding of this surprising plant has been muddled by politics and morality; what we think we know isn’t the real story.
A war on cannabis has been waged in the United States since the early years of the twentieth century, yet in the past decade, society has undergone a massive shift in perspective that has allowed us to reconsider our beliefs. In Brave New Weed, Joe Dolce travels the globe to “tear down the cannabis closet” and de-mystify this new frontier, seeking answers to the questions we didn’t know we should ask.
Dolce heads to a host of places, including Amsterdam, Israel, California, and Colorado, where he skillfully unfolds the odd, shocking, and wildly funny history of this complex plant. From the outlandish stories of murder trials where defendants claimed “insanity due to marijuana consumption” to the groundbreaking success stories about the plant’s impressive medicinal benefits, Dolce paints a fresh and much-needed portrait of cannabis, our changing attitudes toward it, and the brave new direction science and cultural acceptance are leading us.
Enlightening, entertaining, and thought-provoking, Brave New Weed is a compelling read that will surprise and educate proponents on both sides of the cannabis debate.”


I knew nothing about marijuana.  I’ve never smoked or eaten an edible.  I wouldn’t have the first clue how to get any marijuana if I was interested.  However, I am interested in the medical aspects of marijuana use.  This is what I found most fascinating about this story.

The author had smoked in college but hadn’t used any in years.  He wanted to investigate the claims on both the pro-legalization side and the prohibition side.  He worked in medical dispensaries in states where it is legal.  Different strains of marijuana have been bred to work better for different diseases.  Some get rid of nausea.  Other work better for pain.  Others help calm anxiety.  Some don’t produce a much of a high but help physical illnesses.  A well trained dispensary staff can help patients determine what strains are best for them based on the chemical profiles of the particular plant and determine the best delivery mechanism for each patient – smoke, vaporize, eat, oils?

How did a plant that appears to have many benefits get to be so reviled?  It doesn’t have a history of recorded deaths, like alcohol and tobacco.  However it is a schedule I drug which means that it is considered to have no medicinal value.  That puts it in the same class as heroin.

He covers the history of marijuana and the racial inequality that led to it being so problematic in the United States.  He investigated what happened when other countries decriminalized possession.  He talked to scientists to learn about the latest research in medical marijuana.

marijuana-1556358_640

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history of the drug wars in the United States and the potential benefits of legalization.

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16 Nov, 2016

Brazillionaires

/ posted in: Reading Brazillionaires Brazillionaires: Chasing Dreams of Wealth in an American Country by Alex Cuadros
on July 12th 2016
Pages: 352
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Published by Spiegel & Grau
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Brazil
Goodreads

“When Bloomberg News invited the young American journalist Alex Cuadros to report on Brazil’s emerging class of billionaires at the height of the historic Brazilian boom, he was poised to cover two of the biggest business stories of our time: how the giants of the developing world were triumphantly taking their place at the center of global capitalism, and how wealth inequality was changing societies everywhere.  Eike Batista, a flamboyant and charismatic evangelist for the country’s new gospel of wealth, epitomized much of this rarefied sphere: In 2012, Batista ranked as the eighth-richest person in the world, was famous for his marriage to a beauty queen, and was a fixture in the Brazilian press. His constantly repeated ambition was to become the world’s richest man and to bring Brazil along with him to the top.  But by 2015, Batista was bankrupt, his son Thor had been indicted for manslaughter, and Brazil its president facing impeachment, its provinces combating an epidemic, and its business and political class torn apart by scandal had become a cautionary tale of a country run aground by its elites, a tale with ominous echoes around the world.”


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This is a book that I would not have picked up if I wasn’t consciously trying to read more books set in South America. I’m glad I read it.

Alex Cuadros was selected for an unusual job.  He was to monitor the billionaires of Brazil.  He needed to maintain an up to date list of the net worth of the richest people in Brazil.  In trying to find out who these people were, he started to look at the world around him.  Who owns the company that makes your soap or the roads you drive on? There may be a hidden billionaire behind it.  Some billionaires weren’t so hard to find.  Eike Batista was one of these.  He flaunted his wealth.  He bragged on Twitter whenever he moved up in the rankings of richest people.  Then suddenly he lost it all.

The rise and fall of Eike Batista is told along with the stories of other Brazilian billionaires.  Some are in construction or broadcasting.  There is even a billionaire pastor.  Cuadros brings up the question — Is is possible to amass this amount of money in an ethical way in a country with such rampant poverty?  Is corruption endemic in a country founded on a system where slaves do all the work and higher classes live off of others?

I didn’t know anything about Brazilian history or politics.  This was a great introduction in an engaging story.  I enjoyed listening to the author narrate the book so I could hear the proper pronunciations of places and names in Portuguese.

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I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to combine the voyeurism of watching how the super rich live with an education in the culture and politics of Brazil.

31 Oct, 2016

Nonfiction November – My Year in Nonfiction

/ posted in: Reading

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

25938485

August

September

October


So that’s 44 nonfiction books since January.

  • 28 male authors and 17 female authors (Yes, one book had 2 authors.)  Turns out I read way more male-authored nonfiction than I do male-authored fiction.
  • 14 POC authors
  • 2 authors with physical disabilities
  • 5 were perfect for Foodies Read

I read the most memoirs — about 25 depending on how you define that.  The topics are all so different that is hard to pick I favorite.  I enjoyed them all.

I’ve recommended If At Birth You Don’t Succeed and Born a Crime the most.  But seriously, there isn’t a single book on this list that I would steer anyone away from.  It has been a really good nonfiction year for me.

There isn’t a type of nonfiction that I’m looking to read more often.  I do like to find books set in parts of the world that I haven’t read a lot about before.  That’s why there are 2 South American books in October.  I picked them based on setting and they are both lovely.  The Wonder Trail also has a lot of other book suggestions too.

The thing I love best about Nonfiction November is getting so many recommendations.  I can’t wait to see what everyone else is reading.

24 Oct, 2016

Paris in Love

/ posted in: Reading Paris in Love Paris in Love by Eloisa James
on April 3rd 2012
Pages: 272
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Random House
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: France
Goodreads

“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). “


I picked up this ebook on a day it was free and then it sat on my iPad until I read a post on Felicia’s blog with recommendations for romance books.  Eloisa James was recommended.  When I went looking for her books I realized that I already owned one.

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.

18 Oct, 2016

The Girls of Atomic City

/ posted in: Reading The Girls of Atomic City The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
on March 5th 2013
Pages: 373
Genres: 20th Century, History, Nonfiction
Published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Tennessee
Goodreads

“The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.
The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!
But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb.”


Oak Ridge was a temporary city in the middle of nowhere, hidden by topography, and never meant to see the light of day.  It had one purpose — to enrich uranium to feed the development of the nuclear bomb.  A lot of people were required to build and then run the huge plants.  How do you get a lot of people to agree to do a job that they aren’t allowed to know about or talk about?  Pay high wages and tell them it is for the war effort.

People left other jobs without knowing where they would be going or for how long.  Many were told to go to a train station and they would be met.  They had no idea where they were heading.

I can’t believe that people agreed to do this.  I’m too nosy.  If you gave me a job and told me to spend eight to twelve hours a day manipulating dials so that the readout always read the correct number, I couldn’t do it.  I certainly couldn’t do it for years without needing to know what I was doing.  I would have been fired and escorted out of there so fast.  How was the secret kept for so long?

Coming out of the Depression though, any job was a good job.  These jobs were hiring women and African Americans at wages they wouldn’t see elsewhere.  Of course, there was discrimination and segregation.  Housing for African Americans was poor and they were not allowed to live together if they were married.  When someone started wondering, “What happens if we inject this uranium into a person?” you know they picked a black man who just happened to have a broken leg to experiment on.  He did manage to escape eventually but not before they had done a lot of damage to him.

This book tells the stories of women in several different jobs – secretarial staff, Calutron operators, cleaning staff, and scientists.  They made a life in a town that wasn’t supposed to last long.  The audiobook was compelling listening.  The story sounds like a novel.

I went to vet school in Knoxville, which is 20 miles away from Oak Ridge.  I had friends who were from there and friends whose families had been forcibly removed from the area in order to build Oak Ridge.  It was interesting to hear what went on behind the scenes.

I would be interested in pairing this with this book:

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear WarNagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard

“On August 9, 1945, three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, a small port city on Japan’s southernmost island. An estimated 74,000 people died within the first five months, and another 75,000 were injured.

Published on the seventieth anniversary of the bombing, Nagasaki takes readers from the morning of the bombing to the city today, telling the first-hand experiences of five survivors, all of whom were teenagers at the time of the devastation.”

The Girls of Atomic City does discuss the reactions of the citizens of Oak Ridge when they found out what they had been doing.  It discusses the guilt that some people still have for their part in making the bomb.


You know what I kept thinking about while listening to this?  This scene from Clerks.

Randal: There was something else going on in Jedi. I ever noticed it till today. They build another Death Star, right?

Dante: Yeah.

Randal: Now, the first one was completed and fully operational before the Rebel’s destroyed it.

Dante: Luke blew it up. Give credit where credit is due.

Randal: And the second one was still being built when the blew it up.

Dante: Compliments to Lando Calrissian.

Randal: Something just never sat right with me that second time around. I could never put my finger on it, but something just wasn’t right.

Dante: And you figured it out?

Randal: The first Death Star was manned by the Imperial Army. The only people on board were stormtroppers, dignitaries, Imperials.

Dante: Basically.

Randal: So, when the blew it up, no problem. Evil’s punished.

Dante: And the second time around?

Randal: The second time around, it wasn’t even done being built yet. It was still under construction.

Dante: So?

Randal: So, construction job of that magnitude would require a helluva lot more manpower than the Imperial army had to offer. I’ll bet there were independent contractors working on that thing: plumbers, aluminum siders, roofers.

Dante: Not just Imperials, is what you’re getting at?

Randal: Exactly. In order to get it built quickly and quietly they’d hire anybody who could do the job. Do you think the average storm trooper knows how to install a toilet main? All they know is killing and white uniforms.

Dante: All right, so they bring in independent contractors. Why are you so upset with its destruction?

Randal: All those innocent contractors hired to do a job were killed! Casualties of a war they had nothing to do with. All right, look, you’re a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia – this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn’t ask for that. You have no personal politics. You’re just trying to scrape out a living.

____________

This book is basically the point of view of the people building the second Death Star.

 

 

17 Oct, 2016

The Sweet Life in Paris

/ posted in: Reading The Sweet Life in Paris The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City by David Lebovitz
on May 5th 2009
Pages: 282
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Broadway Books
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Setting: France
Goodreads

“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.

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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.

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11 Oct, 2016

Troublemaker

/ posted in: Reading Troublemaker Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini, Rebecca Paley
on November 3rd 2015
Pages: 228
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Ballantine Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: California
Goodreads

“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.

 

07 Oct, 2016

Mighty Be Our Powers

/ posted in: Reading Mighty Be Our Powers Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leymah Gbowee, Carol Mithers
on September 13th 2011
Pages: 256
Genres: History, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Beast Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Liberia
Goodreads

“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.”


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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.

03 Oct, 2016

Born A Crime

/ posted in: Reading Born A Crime Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
on November 15th 2016
Pages: 224
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Doubleday Canada
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: South Africa
Goodreads

“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.

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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.

I received this book from NetGalley.

 

26 Sep, 2016

Dancers After Dark

/ posted in: Reading Dancers After Dark Dancers After Dark by Jordan Matter
on September 28th 2016
Pages: 256
Genres: Photography, Subjects & Themes, Sports
Published by Workman Publishing
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“Dancers After Dark” is an amazing celebration of the human body and the human spirit, as dancers, photographed nude and at night, strike poses of fearless beauty. Without a permit or a plan, Jordan Matter led hundreds of the most exciting dancers in the world out of their comfort zones not to mention their clothes to explore the most compelling reaches of beauty and the human form. After all the risk and daring, the result is extraordinary: 300 dancers, 400 locations, more than 150 stunning photographs. And no clothes, no arrests, no regrets. Each image highlights the amazing abilities of these artists and presents a core message to the reader: Say yes rather than no, and embrace the risks and opportunities that life presents. “


It started with an offhand comment from a contortionist.  She’d be available for a photoshoot after her show.  It might be raining.  Maybe they should try nudes.

Jordan Matter had been photographing dancers and circus performers for years but now that work went in a new direction.  This is a book of photos of dancers naked in public at night.  There were no permits.  No closed sets.

The photographs in the book are beautiful.  Several of them I stared at just to try to figure out how they got into those positions.  I love one of a dancer balancing on pointe on top of a wine bottle.  Other times I could only imagine how incredibly cold they must have been. Here’s a behind the scenes video of one of the shots that made me freeze just looking at it.

The cover dancer is Michaela Prince, whose autobiography I reviewed.  Most of the rest are anonymous except for Alan Cumming.  At the end of the book there are some of the stories behind the pictures.  It wasn’t enough.  I wish there had been a story for every picture.  I wanted to know if the participants were ballet dancers or modern dancers.  Did they perform on Broadway or in circuses? Luckily there is video of the process that gives more background on his website.

23 Sep, 2016

In Memory of Bread

/ posted in: Reading In Memory of Bread In Memory of Bread: A Memoir by Paul Graham
on June 7th 2016
Pages: 272
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Clarkson Potter
Format: Hardcover
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: New York
Goodreads

“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.

foodiesreadsmall

Book received in exchange for review from BloggingforBooks.com
21 Sep, 2016

Saving Delaney

/ posted in: Reading Saving Delaney Saving Delaney by Andréa Ott-Dahl, Keston Ott-Dahl
on April 12th 2016
Pages: 320
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Cleis Press
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: California
Goodreads

“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.

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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.

 

12 Sep, 2016

If At Birth You Don’t Succeed

/ posted in: Reading If At Birth You Don’t Succeed If at Birth You Don't Succeed: My Adventures with Disaster and Destiny by Zach Anner
on March 8th 2016
Pages: 338
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Texas, New York, California, Berlin
Goodreads

“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.

02 Sep, 2016

Neither Snow Nor Rain

/ posted in: Readingtravel Neither Snow Nor Rain Neither Snow nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service by Devin Leonard
on May 3rd 2016
Pages: 288
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Grove Press
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: United States
Goodreads

“The United States Postal Service is a wondrous American creation. Seven days a week, its army of 300,000 letter carriers delivers 513 million pieces of mail, forty percent of the world’s volume. It is far more efficient than any other mail service—more than twice as efficient as the Japanese and easily outpacing the Germans and British. And the USPS has a storied history. Founded by Benjamin Franklin, it was the information network that bound far-flung Americans together, fostered a common culture, and helped American business to prosper. A first class stamp remains one of the greatest bargains of all time, and yet, the USPS is slowly vanishing. Critics say it is slow and archaic. Mail volume is down. The workforce is shrinking. Post offices are closing.”


I’ve always been fascinated by the workings of the post office.

I’ve never understood how they can sort all that mail and get it to where it is going.  If you told me that this was involved, I’d believe you.

That why I was so excited to listen to this book about the workings of the post office. I also had just visited the Smithsonian’s Post Office museum in Washington D.C. when I started the book. In all my visits to D.C. I had never known about this museum. It is right next to the train station.

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Did you know?

  • Many of the major roads of the United States were laid out by mail carriers
  • Mail used to be delivered up to four times a day in U.S. cities
  • There have been a few times when mail volume got so high that the system collapsed
  • It was illegal for anyone other than the U.S. mail to deliver letters
  • The United States Postal Service is now an independent company that reports to the government instead of a government department

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The Post Office is required to deliver everywhere. At times that has required mule trains to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, sled dog teams, and even reindeer.  Mandatory rural delivery allowed farmers to get daily newspapers.  This kept them informed of the best time to sell crops for the highest profit.  It kept everyone in the country informed about events.  The United States mail has helped to hold the country together.

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I particularly liked learning about the mail trains. Specialist clerks rode these mobile sorting cars, picking up letters at high speed and getting them sorted before the next town. There was one of these mail cars in the museum and a video of former clerks showing their system of sorting. It was amazing. I also learned about Owney, the famous mail dog.

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Technological advances have helped the mail be delivered faster and faster. Optical scanners were developed to read printed labels of bulk mailers and now can even read handwriting. After a few passes through the scanners, mail can be sorted into the order in which each carrier will deliver it. I think that’s just magical.

One thing that wasn’t covered at the museum but was well covered in the book was the Comstock Era.  This is a time of strict censorship of the mail.  Items that were judged to be obscene were not allowed.  This included information on contraception.  There was a lot of entrapment by postal inspectors who would order an item and then arrest the person who sent it.

Also not covered in the museum but talked about in the book was the wave of violence at post offices in the 1980s and 90s leading to the phrase “Going Postal.”

We all know the Post Office is having problems. First class mail is down as most people send emails instead of letters. The Post Office is not allowed to get involved in electronic forms in the U.S. by law, unlike in other countries. Amazon’s new partnership with them to deliver mail on Sundays is helping as is a renegotiation of the labor contracts of Post Office employees.

Those of us who love getting mail hope that they will find a way to survive and thrive.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who love learning about how everyday things work. The audio narration was very well done. The story moved quickly enough to keep my listening interest.

 

17 Aug, 2016

Truffle Boy

/ posted in: Reading Truffle Boy Truffle Boy: My Unexpected Journey Through the Exotic Food Underground by Ian Purkayastha, Kevin West
on February 7th 2017
Pages: 304
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Hachette Books
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: New York
Goodreads

“Ian Purkayastha is New York City’s leading truffle importer and boasts a devoted clientele of top chefs nationwide, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten, David Chang, Sean Brock, and David Bouley. But before he was purveying the world’s most expensive fungus to the country’s most esteemed chefs, Ian was just a food-obsessed teenager in rural Arkansas–a misfit with a peculiar fascination for rare and exotic ingredients.
 The son of an Indian immigrant father and a Texan mother, Ian learned to forage for wild mushrooms from an uncle in the Ozark hills. Thus began a single-track fixation that led him to learn about the prized but elusive truffle, the king of all fungi. His first taste of truffle at age 15 sparked his improbable yet remarkable adventure through the strange–and often corrupt–business of the exotic food trade.”


 This book starts with the admission that it is weird for a 23 year old to be writing a memoir.  It’s good to get that out there early because it is a bit presumptious but you’d be forgiven for forgetting that he’s only 23 while reading this.

While still in high school, Ian Purkayastha started an exotic foods club to make meals with strange ingredients for people in his Arkansas school and raise money for charity.  He used his vacation time to travel to trade shows and meet up with people in the exotic food community.  He set up his own business importing truffles from Italy for chefs in his area. This led to a job after high school graduation importing truffles in New York.  This is where he started to see the problems in the industry.  As he spends the next few years starting his own business, he travels around the world sourcing ingredients and meeting the people who hunt for mushrooms in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

Did you know:

  • A lot of “Italian” truffles come from eastern Europe
  • Truffle oil usually doesn’t have truffles in it
  • U.S. chefs prize the appearance of truffles so much that the vast majority of harvested truffles aren’t sent to the U.S. market because they aren’t the “correct” shape
  • There are attempts being made to raise truffles in specially planted orchards but it will take decades to see if it works

This book tries to dispel some of the snobbery around high end foods.  It shows the work involved in finding and harvesting.  It also points out how markets are kept artificially tight and how some countries become known as the best source of ingredients for reasons that may not be true.

This ARC of Truffle Boy is one of the prizes up for grabs this month for people who link up with Foodies Read.  If you like reading books featuring food, link up your reviews with us!

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