Thursday, June 7, 2012


Ali in Wonderland: And Other Tall Tales by Ali Wentworth.  “Ali's 'biography' of sorts -- snippets of her life - - growing up in her privileged DC backdrop but frequently 'shipped off', she details some of her funnier experiences and insights.  Entertaining in its brazen confessions, yet I found myself frequently annoyed with her attitude and when I finished the book I liked her less.” 

Angela's Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt.  Someone mentioned this as an all-time favorite, as I’m sure it is for many of us.  So in case you forgot to read it.  Or even if you did, it’s been out long enough now.  You can reread it!

Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs In and Out of the Kitchen by Alyssa Shelasky.  “Writer meets chef (Spike Mendelsohn, of Top Chef fame) and they fall in love.  Writer moves to DC.  Loathes it.  Has horrible time in relationship.  Confesses to outing herself while trying to email the WaPo with a blind item about herself and the chef.  Sex, food, a little self-loathing... I liked it a lot.”

Blue Nights by Joan Didion.   From Amazon:  From one of our most powerful writers, a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter.”  Another reviewer says: “Although I loved her description of the blue nights, the book is about the death of her daughter and yet she never explains why her daughter died.  Didion struck me as a name dropping, self-centered person.  It was not nearly as moving as The Year of Magical Thinking - about her husband's sudden death.” 

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. From Amazon: "After discovering the fire of true faith in a Harlem church, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany and became one of the first to speak out against Hitler.  As a double agent, he joined the plot to assassinate the Fuhrer and was hanged in Flossenberg concentration camp at age 39.  ince his death, Bonhoeffer has grown to be one of the most fascinating, complex figures of the 20th century."

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman “An interesting perspective on raising children; as with all child-rearing theories, if it all was that easy ... yet the idea of not always jumping at the every need of our children, even when they are newborns trying to sleep, and of letting them be truly hungry when they sit down for a meal stuck a chord with me.”

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert Massie.  “Terrific storytelling about her early years as a German princess before coming one of Russias most powerful emperors.” And: “Fantastic biography of a born leader.”

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller.  “A continuation of her memoir Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, 'Cocktail Hour' shares more hilarious and sad stories of her larger that life mother.  Nicola Fuller and her husband were British colonialists who endured the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, the Rhodesian War, and losing three out of five children. Through all of this, she still found it important to take along her orange Le Creuset cookware as she reestablished the next homestead. Reminescent of Out of Africa and West with the Night. Nicola is still alive and well and living in Africa.”

Crashing Through: The Extraordinary True Story of the Man Who Dared to See by Robert Kurson.  “Loved this true story!” From Amazon: “Mike May spent his life crashing through. Blinded at age three, he defied expectations by breaking world records in downhill speed skiing, joining the CIA, and becoming a successful inventor, entrepreneur, and family man. He had never yearned for vision. Then, in 1999, a chance encounter brought startling news: a revolutionary stem cell transplant surgery could restore May’s vision.”

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan.  A contributor said she’d not yet read it, but it was getting raves.  From Amazon:  God is love. Crazy, relentless, all-powerful love. Have you ever wondered if we’re missing it? It’s crazy, if you think about it. The God of the universe--the Creator of nitrogen and pine needles, galaxies and E-minor--loves us with a radical, unconditional, self-sacrificing love. And what is our typical response? We go to church, sing songs, and try not to cuss. Whether you’ve verbalized it yet or not...we all know something’s wrong… "  [Ed: I should read this.  I gave up cursing for Lent]. Show More Show Less

Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir by Wendy Burden.  “A hilarious account of what it is like to grow up at the tail end of a once great fortune written by a descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Lots of description of wretched clueless excess by people who have no idea that they are completely irrelevant.”

Do the Work by Stephen Pressfield.  This is a short book that packs a whallop.  Do you need motivation to complete a project (particularly a creative endeavor)?  This is the book for you.  Pressfield helps you understand what is holding you back and will motivate you to finish.  It is not your typical self-help book.  It's brilliant. 

Elephant Girl: A Human Story by Jane Devin.  A memoir.  From Amazon:  Born unwanted and raised without love, the child-author invents a rich inner life to see her through years of trauma. Leaving home at 16, the teen-author struggles to find happiness and a sense of place in a world that feels confusing and unfamiliar. Then, years after stumbling into an adulthood mired in tragedy and broken dreams, the woman-author finds herself at a crossroads. The choice she ultimately makes is as stunning as it is brave. Told in unflinching and often lyrical prose, Elephant Girl goes beyond a singular life story to speak of powerful, universal truths and the ability of the human spirit to redeem itself.”

Emptying the Nest: Launching Your Young Adult toward Success and Self-Reliance by Brad Sachs.   The title seems pretty descriptive!   

Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy: A Lost Generation Love Story by Amanda Vaill.  “Biography of the couple that embodies the Fitzgerald era. A sad story, but also beautiful and intelligent.” 

The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine.  “Sounds a little heavy--but is actually fun and very cool.”  From Amazon:  Why are women more verbal than men? Why do women remember details of fights that men can’t remember at all? Why do women tend to form deeper bonds with their female friends than men do with their male counterparts? These and other questions have stumped both sexes throughout the ages.”    

Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman by Sam Wasson.  “A short, fun read.  Who doesn't love Audrey, Truman, Tiffany's,  and NYC?  Taken from one of Truman Capote's stories about one of his 'swans,' this is the tale of how all of the elements came together to create one of the most popular movies of all time.  From all of this, we got 'the little black dress,' "Moon River,"  Holly Golightly and so much more.” 

Fly Fishing with Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys by Matt Labash.  “Readers of the Weekly Standard will have no doubt already laughed their heads off at Matt Labash’s witty essays. If you are new to Matt, pick up this hilarious volume and start with his essay on Marion Barry, who he got to spout hilariously, and his heartbreaking essay on the ground in New Orleans after Katrina. One of the funniest young writers on current events and characters.”

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough “about Americans in Paris at the turn of the century.”

Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls.  “In her grandmothers voice the author or The Glass Castle (also one of my favorites) explores what it was like growing up in poverty the southwest in the first part of the 20th century and the impact of this life on her grandmother. Jeannette Walls is an amazing story teller.”

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. "This is a truly inspiring topic that needs our attention.  A page turning, eye opening, non-fiction  book about human trafficking.   I learned a great deal and have been inspired to get involved.   A PBS documentary based on this book has just been produced and will air on Oct 1 and 2.   I went to a pre-view of the trailer in NYC last week with the film’s Producer and CEO of Women’s World Banking.”

Hamlet's BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers.  A couple of people mentioned this as a great book about our brave new world.  [Ed:  I heard about this on an NPR "On Books" podcast.  I listen to them while running, though sometimes they are so interesting that I start walking, then sort of standing with old ladies passing me.  So, I recommend them, but they aren’t healthy. Anyway, the author talked about his family's digital-free weekends.  Or maybe it's just one day. Either way, it sounds wonderful.  And impossible.]

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss  “A beautiful book - It's not a beach read, but it's a wonderful story.”

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Geniusby David Eggers. From Amazon: “The moving memoir of a college senior who, in the space of five weeks, loses both of his parents to cancer and inherits his eight-year-old brother. Here is an exhilarating debut that manages to be simultaneously hilarious and wildly inventive as well as a deeply heartfelt story of the love that holds a family together.”

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown.  “If you loved Richard Feynman's book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) then this is the beach read for you this summer.   All the science you have long since forgotten along with a healthy dose of humor.  Even better you will be up to date with the local elementary kids.” 

How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life by Johanna Barsh.  “Former McKinsey partner Johanna Barsh uses examples to delve into the different strategies and qualities of 'successful' women leaders.  An interesting read, albeit very 'corner office' focused in the examples and context.”

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer.  “A comprehensive exploration of the 'science' of creativity, with the goal of shattering the common right-brain or left-brain perception and showing that truly anyone can be creative.  Lehrer provides interesting examples of 'non traditional' creativity and practical suggestions for thinking creatively (daydreaming is productive, so is thinking like a child).” 

Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir by Doron Weber. "a memoir in which the author tells the story of his son who is born with a serious form of congenital heart disease.  The son is gifted and attends Brooklyn Technical High School.  He ultimately receives a heart transplant at age 16 at Columbia Hospital in NY.   The father/author, a former Rhodes Scholar and current VP of the Alfred P Sloan Foundation, writes movingly of the family’s journey."

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  This has been on the list before but continues to get rave reviews, so I’m putting it on again.   “A fascinating story of genetic research - its reality and ethics - and of its impact on the entire world of cancer research and one, very poor and religious, family in Baltimore - the relatives of Henrietta Lacks, whose cervical cancer cells are still used in medical research today.”  And:  “I may be late to the Henrietta party but I loved this story of how one woman's cancer cells revolutionized medicine and how her family was affected by the research and then left out of the medical advances made possible by their mother's cells.”

Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy with Caroline Kennedy and Michael Beschloss.  "Great book, complete with the audios.  Fascinating."  And:  “I am a political junkie. And Jackie mentioned crises and incidents THAT I HAD NEVER HEARD OF. Which only led me to believe more firmly that the ‘crises’ of today will be the head scratchers of tomorrow.”   And “added pleasure here is it comes with CDs for road trips!”

Just Kids by Patti Smith. A memoir. “The story of her entry into the art scene with Robert Mapplethorpe (her boyfriend) is really interesting.”

Just One Thing: Developing A Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time by Rick Hanson.  Daily practices to develop a "Buddha Brain" i.e., challenge limiting beliefs, re-wire neurons and be happier.

Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever by Bill O’Reilly. (yes, that Bill O’Reilly). Being enjoyed even by people who aren’t otherwise wild about the author.  “Thoroughly enjoying it!”

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Fiona Carnarvon. “The title would lead you to believe that this is a dry history book.  Believe me, it is not!  Those of you who are followers of the PBS Downton Abbey series will be able to picture the true story as it unfolds at Highclere (Downton.)  Lady Almina was the illigitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild (one of the richest men in the world at the time) and his long time mistress.  A child of privilege, she brings her generous dowry to preserve the Carnarvon ancestral home.  It is hard for us to imagine today the splendour in which these privileged Edwardians lived.  And yet, the spoiled countess rose to the task of nursing WWI soldiers in her home with tenderness and true concern. The castle's current countess shares the family's colorful history, including Lord Carnarvon's discovery of King Tut's tomb.  By the way, anyone visiting in the London/Oxford area today may tour the castle, where the series is filmed.” 

Another contributor writes: “A record of the manor home where Downton Abbey is filmed, written (ghost written more likely!) by the current owner the Duchess of Carnarvon; great fun to read about the real occupants of the just as grand home.”  [Ed:  Once again, they had me at “Downton.”] 

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family's Heartbreak by Melissa Coleman.  "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight meets Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  The story of a young family who become homesteaders in Maine during the 1970s.  It is fascinating to read about the roots of the organic, eat local movement; yet this book is more about the brutal consequences the lifestyle choices took on this family. The author and protagonist never addresses how she was able to recoup from her very hard childhood, but the story is compelling in the context of where we are today with respect to the understanding of industrial farming."

Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas.  "This book is one of the best auto-biographies I’ve ever read, and definitely the best cooking biography.  Grant Achatz, a James Beard award winning chef is the uber-creative force behind Alinea, named the best restaurant in North America by Gourmet.  The book covers his childhood working in his parents’ restaurant, his work through the ranks at The French Laundry in his 20s and his close relationship with Thomas Keller, through his creation of his ultra modern and ground-breaking Alinea.   Soon after opening Alinea and winning accolades, Achatz was diagnosed with Stage 4 tongue cancer at age 33 and subsequently lost the ability to taste, eat and swallow.  Chef Achatz writes so honestly about his life, dreams and his fight against the cancer that I really felt like I knew him while reading.  I cried and laughed throughout.  Interspersed with Achatz’s writing are chapters and bits from Nick Kokonas, who began as a regular customer and became Achatz’s business partner and support system." 

Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr. From Amazon:  Reviewers agreed that while Karr's memoir could have succumbed to the pitfalls of the addiction-recovery memoir, it rises above the genre. Juicy, evocative, confessional, poetic, and often darkly humorous, Lit recounts Karr's dark past in an intimate, easy style.”

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen.  “Loved every page because it's like having a conversation with a friend who is wise beyond her years.”

Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine by Eric Weiner.  “Very fun read.”   From Amazon:  When a health scare puts him in the hospital, Eric Weiner-an agnostic by default-finds himself tangling with an unexpected question, posed to him by a well-meaning nurse. 'Have you found your God yet?' The thought of it nags him, and prods him-and ultimately launches him on a far-flung journey to do just that.”

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma.  “A fable about fulfilling your dreams and reaching your destiny.  Although published in 1997, it is a current read which inspires thought and inspiration about how we live our lives each day.  I really enjoyed the journey of reading this book.  It’s a very easy read.” 

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. “The little brother of Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything is Illuminated) delves into the quirky world of memory champions and winds up one himself.”  The little brother of Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything is Illuminated) delves into the quirky world of memory champions and winds up one himself. Networking For People Who Hate Networking by Devora Zack. Great ideas for introverts who need a stronger personal or professional network.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder.  “This book on Paul Farmer, the founder of Partners in Health in Haiti is a fabulously compelling story of a struggling country and a man committed to its people that reads like a beautiful novel. The book stayed with me long after I put it down.”  

The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own by David Carr.  “I'd forgotten this book existed until I saw the NYT documentary on Netflix, which featured Carr pretty prominently.  This is a memoir of sorts, and is so well written and journalistic in its nature, you almost forget he's writing about himself.  I loved it."

A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life by Jack Kornfield.  Beloved Western Buddhist master Kornfield makes known his personal, practical wisdom, garnered from 25 years of practicing and teaching the path of awakening, as he guides self-searchers to a simplicity of perception that brings alive spiritual practice, peace, and truth in their daily lives.”

The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy.  The inside story of the world's most exclusive fraternity; how presidents from Hoover through Obama worked with--and sometimes, against--each other when they were in and out of power.”

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith “Perfect timing for this one with the Jubilee”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  “I really loved this book about the power of introversion and why it is important to be solitary in a world that celebrates being loud and extroverted.  Especially wonderful if you are an extroverted parent or spouse and have an introverted child/partner etc.  A great read for teachers or anyone in education as well.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard.  From Amazon: After his humiliating election defeat in 1912, Teddy Roosevelt set his sights on the most punishing physical challenge he could find, the first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon. Together with his son Kermit and Brazil’s most famous explorer, Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, Roosevelt accomplished a feat so great that many at the time refused to believe it. In the process, he changed the map of the western hemisphere forever. Along the way, Roosevelt and his men faced an unbelievable series of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Three men died, and Roosevelt was brought to the brink of suicide. The River of Doubt brings alive these extraordinary events in a powerful nonfiction narrative thriller that happens to feature one of the most famous Americans who ever lived.

The Secret Lives of Wives: Women Share What It Really Takes to Stay Married by Iris Krasnow.  “A bestselling, groundbreaking author investigates successful long term marriages, interviewing wives and their uncensored strategies for staying married… In raw, candid, titillating stories, Krasnow's cast of wise women give voice to the truth about marriage and the importance of maintaining a strong sense of self apart from the relationship. Some spend summers separately from their partners. Some make time for wine with the girls. One septuagenarian has a recurring date with an old flame from high school. In every case, the marriage operates on many tracks, giving both spouses license to pursue the question "Who am I apart from my marriage?" Krasnow's goal is to give women permission to create their own marriages at any age. Marital bliss is possible, she says, if each partner is blissful apart from the other.”

The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It by Valerie Young. Help for understanding The Imposter Syndrome and why so many women feel not quite good enough.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost.  “This is a light and funny read.  I loved this hilarious account of Troost's experiences living on the tiny Tarawa atoll in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati with his (then) girlfriend who was sent there for a two year assignment by an NGO.  What sounded like paradise to the desperate-for-adventure couple sitting in Washington, D.C. most decidedly turns out not to be.  It is well written, laugh-out-loud funny, full of fabulous colorful characters and incredibly bizarre experiences that you couldn't possibly make up if you tried.  A great read.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  [Ed: Almost a top pick, but I doubted you all needed this list to know  that this book existed.]  “Unsurprisingly, Jobs managed to channel the communication about his life even after his death. The man was brilliant and unapologetically mean at the same time. Undoubtedly he and some of his designers have changed the world --- I would agree for the better! Yet I cannot like the man.  The story of Apple is fascinating, also from the business management perspective.” And: “deeper themes about beauty and taste and the idea that great products can create their own demand.”  And: “A compelling story of our generation's genius, who is undeniably brilliant but who is also cruel, quirky and insecure.  The backdrop of coming of age in Silicon Valley, his deep scars from being given up for adoption, his devotion to his adoptive parents, and the story of Jobs and Gates complex relationship made this a page turner for me :)  I also loved learning about the evolution of Apple's products and Jobs impact on the music, computer, and movie industries.” 

Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate by Stephanie Lucianovic.  “Are you a picky eater?  Are your kids picky eaters?  Wanna read funny stories about Hypomomdriacs?  You'll like this book, then.  A little science, but mostly just great stories about the lengths we go to in avoiding the foods we hate (die, raisins... die!)”

The Surprising Life of Constance Spry: From Social Reformer to Society Florist by Sue Shephard.  “A biography of the highly unconventional, brazen sharp business woman Constance Spry.  Best known as 'the’ British society florist of the 1930's (in the way that Cecil Beaton was the 'it' photographer of the era), Constance's life was filled with drama -- from her impoverished beginnings to a violent marriage, lesbian love affair and ultimately her rise as a very successful entrepeneur.  Her floral designs still inspire today.  It's an interesting read about quite an independent, ambitious woman.”

The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda by Andrew Rice.  “One of those great non-fiction books that reads like fiction.  The unraveling of the mysterious disappearance of a man in the midst of the Amin purges in the early 70's.  The jacket says it best:  "A detective story, a tale of fathers and sons, and a political history, this is above all an illumination of the wounded societies of modern Africa and an exploration of how - and whether - the past can ever be laid to rest."  Full disclosure: I was born in Kampala in 1970, so I found this book incredibly fascinating/ chilling imagining all these horrific events unfolding in the city where my parents were living during that awful time of Idi Amin.” 

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillebrand. This was a top pick last year that continues to get mentions.  “Amazing story of human resilience and survival!  Also, learned quite a bit about WWII in the Pacific and the sacrifice of so many of American families.”  And:  “Great author writing about an inspiring man leading an amazing life…what more could you want?  When you’re done you’ll want to drive to Hollywood to hug Louis Zamperini and have a long conversation with this hero and Olympian who survived WWII, a plane crash, being stranded at sea, a string of POW camps and his own demons after the war.  The most amazing part of his life is probably what he did after all of that.”   

A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison.  “A beautiful story.”

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey.  From Amazon:  “Casey, O magazine editor-in-chief, travels across the world and into the past to confront the largest waves the oceans have to offer.”   A contributor called it “Fascinating and scary.” 

When I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays by Marilynne Robinson.  A collection of essays, beautifully written by an award-winning author.

Wild (Oprah's Book Club 2.0 Digital Edition): From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.  “It is fantastic. It’s a memoir about her 1100 mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, grieving her mother's death and her own divorce. It goes through her breaking down and building herself back up again on the trail. It is gritty and raw and you feel like you are walking the trail with her. Love it!”

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