Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Reading Promise (Alice Ozma) – Review

The reading promise : my father and the books we sharedThe Reading Promise: My Dad and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir
Format: Audio-cd
Source: Library
6 discs
Find this book at your local library

What started as a span of 100 consecutive nights of reading soon became a streak that spanned almost 8 years. In this memoir, Alice Ozma recounts her memories of growing up with her father using their reading streak as a backdrop to the stories.

The title of this book is a LIE. A big fat LIE. I picked up this audio book with the impression that the stories would center around the books they read together. Their thoughts on the books, or how the books had an effect on their lives. Instead, all I got were touching, and nostalgic memories of growing up with a single father who tried his best to raise his highly precocious daughter.

As a father-daughter memoir, this book is top-notch. As a memoir about their reading streak…it strayed from its mark. I was hoping for more chapters like Ch.18, which centered around their reading of Dicey’s Song. Most of the stories centered around Alice’s youth. At times the stories felt very self-indulgent (ie the chapter in which she discusses changing her name from Kristen Alice Ozma Brozina to just Alice Ozma. I skipped the track about halfway through…)

Other times, the stories and the moments Alice and her father shared were touching; the day Alice’s mother moved out of the house, the day her sister went abroad to Germany for a year, the day she got a C in English class, her car accident, the last day of their streak. The reading streak did help the pair broach topics and get through life’s scenarios that would have otherwise been awkward for a single father of a teenage girl. The love and commitment the two put into the streak is admirable.

Ozma read the book, and her reading is really what kept me going. I might have put the book aside otherwise. Alice’s voice is youthful, and she and she paces the reading really well. I think her dad taught her well in that respect.

I think the entire concept of their reading streak is fantastic. As a bibliophile & as a children’s librarian. It’s incredibly important for parents to read with and to their children. It fosters a love of literature, creativity, reading comprehension and analytical thought. I would love to start a tradition like this with my kids. Although I never read with my parents, they did always make a point to take me to the library every week to feed my reading addiction, and they encouraged and supported my love of reading in other ways.

October Reading Recap

October has been an interesting month. My reading tastes have been incredibly sporadic, although memoirs in some form or another have dominated this month.  For the first time I don’t have any pre scheduled reviews.

I’m not really sure where I am with my initial goal of predominately reading the books from my bookshelf. I think that kind of fell to the wayside about 5 months into the year. At least I’m doing a good job of reading all the new books plopping on the bookshelf this year. I’m just not very far reading all the books that were there pre 2011. C’ est la vie.

October Books Read & Reviewed

Wildwood Under the Tuscan sun : [at home in Italy] Heist society

Evil plans : having fun on the road to world domination Blankets L'Amante Anglaise by Marguerite Duras

Franny and Zooey. The night circus : a novel Uncommon criminals

Geek girls unite : how fangirls, bookworms, indie chicks, and Other misfits are taking over the world The flaneur : a stroll through the paradoxes of Paris A year in Provence

Moneyball : the art of winning an unfair game

Reviewed in October

  1. Wildwood by Colin Meloy
  2. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
  3. Heist Society by Ally Carter
  4. Evil Plans by Hugh McLeod
  5. Blankets by Craig Thompson
  6. L’amante Anglaise by Marguerite Dumas

Read & Reviewed in October

  1. Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
  2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  3. Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter
  4. Geek Girls Unite by Leslie Simon
  5. The Flaneur by Edmund White
  6. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
  7. Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Moneyball (Michael Lewis) – Review

Moneyball : the art of winning an unfair gameMoneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
Age: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction / Sports / Economics – Statistics
Publisher: Norton
ISBN 9780393338393
301 pages

Find this book at your local library 

I wrote this book because I fell in love with a story. The story concerned a small group of undervalued professional baseball players and executives, many of whom had been rejected as unfit for the big leagues, who had turned themselves into one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball….It began, really, with an innocent question: how did one of the poorest teams in baseball, the Oakland athletics, win so many games?

Thus the premise of Moneyball is laid out in a simple but direct first paragraph in the preface of the book. By now the concept behind Moneyball is pretty well-known thanks to the movie based on this look into the behind-the-scenes of the Oakland A’s. Lewis accomplishes his investigation by interviewing players, following Billy Beane around the clubhouse, studying the statistics of Bill James that laid out the foundational groundwork for Beane’s drastic overhaul of the major league draft system.

Lewis includes mini biographies of quite a few of the players: Scott Hatterberg, Chad Bradford, Billy Beane, etc. I really enjoyed these chapters because it added another element to the book. Despite all the numbers and formula’s Beane applies to his players, they are still human with human-interest stories.

Lewis doesn’t dwell on any topic for too long. He gives a little background history, makes his point then moves on. I really like this method. I understood what he was talking about without feeling bored. You don’t necessarily have to be a baseball fan to appreciate this book, although it helps to know at least some of the terminology and or stats currently used to rate the professional players. I had to reference my husband quite a bit with this book, as he is the biggest baseball fan I know.

Billy Beane is an incredibly odd, intelligent, likable, yet frustrating person. At least his representation his. A man, with a tremendous amount of energy that usually results in chairs being thrown across the room, manages to lead the A’s into winning 20 straight games (setting a new MLB record).

I enjoyed this book because of the quality writing, the location (Bay Area!), the personalities and the blend of biography and statistical analysis in an upbeat and enticing tone. This is also one of those books where you can appreciate both the book and the movie and not get too upset by the changes in the film rendition.

Book 61 of 2011

READ A LIKES

  1. Fair ball : a fan's case for baseball  Working at the ballpark : the fascinating lives of baseball people-- from peanut vendors and broadcasters to players and managers
  1. Fair Ball by Bob Costas
  2. The Bill James Historical Abstract
  3. Working at the Ballpark by Tom Jones

The Flaneur (Edmund White) – Review

The flaneur : a stroll through the paradoxes of ParisThe Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris by Edmund White
Age: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction / History / Social Groups
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2001
ISBN: 1582341354
210 pages
Find this book at your local library

A flaneur is a person who explores, examines and watches life as an idle bystander. Flaneurs can be found sipping coffee at a cafe, watching the people stroll down the street. The flaneur will aimlessly walk about town, with no destination in mind, but always on the lookout for something new.

Using the flaneur as a vehicle, author Edmund White takes us through six distinct sections and social groups of Paris:  the acceptance of black Americans, the position of Jews, Baudelaire and Gustave Moreau, homosexuals, and monarchists.

To be honest, I had a difficult time seeing how the flaneur fit into all these different chapters. The flaneur I learned about in college did nothing other than watch other people. This is often proclaimed as a French past time, sitting in cafe’s watching the world pass you by. Nearly each chapter begins with the flaneur walking this way, or that way, so I suppose the flaneur’s walks about town lead us into the vast history of social strifes and successes in Paris.

I did enjoy learning about the history of each group. I loved the literary history chapter, discussing Colette, Baudelaire, & Balzac. I enjoyed the chapter on the acceptance of blacks, especially in contrast to the lack of acceptance in America during the same time frame of the 1920s. This book reminded me a lot of Parisians by Graham Robb because of the bits of trivia in each chapter. Although at 210 pages, the book is small, its 4″ x 8″. Each chapter is a quick read, and although White discusses the history and the social context heavily, he does infuse his own experiences in each chapter, giving this a bit of a memoir feel.

Book 59 of 2011

Read A Likes

book jacket book jacket Book Cover

  1. Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb
  2. The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter
  3. The Flaneur and his City by Richard D.E. Burton

Geek Girls Unite (Leslie Simon) – Review

Geek girls unite : how fangirls, bookworms, indie chicks, and Other misfits are taking over the worldGeek Girls Unite by Leslie Simon
Age: Tween / Teen
Genre: Nonfiction / Pop Culture / Women
Source: Publisher
Publisher: It Books,  2011
ISBN: 9780062002730
193 pages

Find this book at your local library 

I think the full title of this book explains the entire concept:

Geek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks and Other Misfits Are Taking Over The World.

In this book by author and music journalist Leslie Simon, we explore the world of girl-geekdom. This book is a representation of the cultural progression towards a new identity, that of the geek. Particularly the variety of geek that is no longer relegated to the world of awkward boys. Being a geek is now cool, and its something that women around the globe are embracing and being celebrated for.

The book focuses primarily on 6 types of geek: Fangirl Geek, Literary Geek, Film Geek, Music Geek, Funny-Girl Geek, and Domestic Goddess Geek. There is also a chapter at the end that runs through a number of other geek varieties: tech geek, fashionista geek, athlete geek, etc.

Each chapter has a specific format, a certain breakdown of the geek in question. The format goes as follows (with my general review and thoughts in parenthesis):

  • Pop quiz to gauge how well-versed the reader is in this field. (The questions were something similar to a Seventeen Magazine teen quiz, and Simon probably could have varied the answers in each chapter, as the answer was always the same letter for each quiz).
  • Character Sketch (a quick run-down of what makes up this certain type of geek)
  • Say What? (the lingo most associated with this subset of geek)
  • Geek Mythology (a deeper look into the start of this geek movement, and who was involved in its evolution over time.)
  • Geek Goddesses (notable names of contemporary icons and figures in the media that best reflect this subset of geek)
  • Frenemies (Posers, frauds or phonies. People who think they fit into this geek category, but really don’t because of a series of bullet point, overly broad generalizations as listed and created by Simon).
  • Geek Love (another series of overly broad generalizations and ideas that do more to propagate the stereotypes associated with this level of geek, this time in regards to romantic matches.)
  • Required Reading / Web Bookmarks, Movies / Playlist (this part is actually my favorite of each chapter. I think Simon did a great job assembling a selection of resources for young girls to further learn about their desired geek-topic. Although there were a few links and notable names that I found missing in the book, I think this end summary did a good job of getting young girls started on their path of development.)

Had I known from the get-go that this book was aimed at the tween/teen age range, I would have approached it with a different frame of mind. As a 28-year-old, this book really didn’t appeal to me, or reach me on any volume, even though I am a self-proclaimed literary/domestic goddess geek married to a music geek. I think young girls will fully embrace this book and relate to the notable names (Tina Fey, Natalie Portman, etc). Although I did find the requirements for each type of geek to be restrictive, Simon does make a point to mention that geeks can be anyone who embraces a level of cultural with a passion and intensity and one type of geek is not better than the rest. This book is full of resources for anyone interested in learning more, or even just learning about the different subsets in this book. I’ve already jotted down a number of books to read, movies to watch and CDs to explore.

Book 58 of 2011

Read A Likes

book jacket book jacket  book jacket

  1. Geektastic by Holly Black
  2. She’s Such a Geek! by Annalee Newitz
  3. How to be a Geek Goddess by Christina Tynan-Wood

 

Evil Plans (Hugh McLeod) – Review

Evil plans : having fun on the road to world dominationEvil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination by Hugh McLeod
Age: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction /Business-self help
Publisher: Penguin, 2011
ISBN: 9781591843849
179 pages

Successful entrepreneur and cartoonist Hugh McLeod writes this simple guide for escaping the cubicle claustrophobia of everyday work and promoting the branching out and making a success out of home-grown interests, hobbies and activities.

Had this not been a selection for my book club, I would probably not have picked up this book. I’m not really not the target audience for Evil Plans. I believe the target audience is anyone working in a stereotypical rat-race workforce and hates their current job. The audience is someone needing a little encouragement and nod towards starting their own company.  The audience also includes fans of McLeod’s cartoons and website gapingvoid.com. I didn’t really find much useful information in this book, and many of McLeod’s work ethics and habit differ sharply from my own. I don’t like to work on 10 individual projects at a time, I like to work on 2 maybe 3, all of which are related and overlap.

Although McLeod offers some clever tips and includes a number of his own illustrations throughout the book, I just found this book to be lacking in applicable advice. McLeod wrote over 2 dozen chapters, each of which is roughly 1 – 5 pages. Short and full of quips and personal anecdotes, I think current fans of McLeod and his work will get a real kick out of this book. For me, I didn’t know his website or his work, so I never really understood why I should care.

Despite my reservations about the book, I have been reading his blog/website GapingVoid and I find myself really enjoying his writing. I think maybe because it’s not as condensed and bullet-pointy as the book? He’s an active member of the art community and is the CEO of Stormhoek USA, which markets South African wine in the States.

Find this book at your local library 

B00k 52 of 2011

Under the Tuscan Sun (Frances Mayes) – Review

Under the Tuscan sun : [at home in Italy]Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Age: Adult
Genre: Travel Memoir
Publisher: Broadway Books. 1996
ISBN 0767900383
280 pages

3/4ths of the year, Frances Mayes works as a professor for San Francisco State University teaching writing. The rest of the time, she spends in Tuscany with her husband Ed. The two purchased an old dilapidated Bramasole building that they carefully and lovingly renovated over the course of a couple of years.

A few things:

  1. The movie of the same name is loosely based on the book. Actually, the premise that Frances Mayes bought a house and restored it to its medieval vigor is the only part of the book that transferred to the movie.
  2. Lots of foodie talk and food discussions including a lengthy chapter full of Italian and Mediterranean inspired recipes.

This is a travel journal, not really a novel or a formal memoir. Reading reviews of this book on Librarything and Goodreads, I found that most people had a love it or hate it gut reaction to the novel. I actually liked it. I was aware of the differences from the movie going into the book, so that helped me not hate it right off the bat. I love food, so I adored the food chapters and portions of the novel. My only complaint is that Mayes writes in a stream-of-consciousness style. Her thoughts meander, and her endless descriptions of the quiet, ancient towns of Italy were just really repetitive. I couldn’t keep the cities straight in my head, they all became one big blur of olive branches, and sun-soaked buildings with lots of hidden Etruscan tombs. 

I did enjoy the first half of the book more than the second half. The first half deals primarily with the renovation of the Bramasole. Then there is a chapter devoted entirely to recipes. After that, the narrative drifts into its own little world leaving the reader behind scratching their head trying to assess which fork in the road. Go right: finish the book. Go left: abandon at all costs. I decided to go right.

If you loved the movie, be wary of the book, it’s not the movie. If you love books about Italy, dream about one day buying a home in a foreign country and love poetic and overly floral descriptions of simple country living, then this is the book you.

Find this book at your local library 

Book 50 of 2011

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh (Mark Roskill) – Review

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh by Vincent Van Gogh (edited by Mark Roskill)
Age: Adult/Teen
Genre: Nonfiction/autobiography/biography
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2008
Translation copyright 1929
ISBN: 9781415680867
344 pages

The title of this book is pretty self-explanatory. This book is a collection of letters written from Vincent Van Gogh to his younger brother Theo over the course of 7 years. The letters encapsulate much of what we already know about Van Gogh, but they also bring a much more human light to this iconic artistic figure of western civilization.

The majority of the letters are heartbreaking and honest with Van Gogh’s desire to just find somebody to love and with whom to start a family. This unrequited and unfilled love and need to devote in his life accounted for much of his internal pain and struggles. His relationship with his brother Theo is frighteningly strong and supportive. The two brothers are almost one entity, they are so close. Theo funded almost all of Van Gogh’s work, constantly sending his older brother money for painting resources. Van Gogh tried working various jobs, but nothing ever stuck. While Theo worked at an art gallery in Paris, Van Gogh moved from city to city, to country to country until he finally found his muse in Arles, France. In this beautiful little city in Provance, Van Gogh found his inspiration and painted the majority of his best-known artwork: Starry Night, The Yellow House, Sunflowers, The Bedroom, etc.

I stayed in Arles for 3 days in April as part of my honeymoon, and I was equally captivated with the sights and sounds of such a mellow, yet bustling city.

My only caution with this book is to read it with the bible & a detailed book of art in tow. Van Gogh makes numerous references to bible passages and discusses thoroughly his opinion of contemporary and past artworks and artists. I often had to look up the images online to get a better sense of Van Gogh’s opinion.

I think the term “misunderstood artist” was really coined for Van Gogh. He had such an earnest heart, but sold only 1 painting in his lifetime (2 if you count the one he sold to his brother), he was tortured, suffered mental breakdowns towards the end of his life, and was driven mad with desires and passions. His life in letters is at times cryptic (hardly mentioned his marriage to the subject of his drawing Sorrow), and at times a brutal reflection of himself and others around him.

Editor Mark Roskill has also included a series of photos of Vincent and Theo as well as Van Gogh’s artwork mentioned throughout the course of the letters. I definitely recommend this book to any fan of art, Van Gogh, and history.

Find this book at your local library 

Book 47 of 2011

Food Rules (Michael Pollan) – Review

Food rules : an eater's manualFood Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan
Age: Any
Genre: Nonfiction / Food / Health & Nutrition
Publisher: Penguin, 2009
ISBN: 9780143116387
140 Pages

The author of the high acclaimed In Defense of Food & An Omnivore’s Dilemma manages to fit all the major tidbits of information from the first two books into a concise set of 64 rules. The rules are divided into three parts.

  • Part 1: What Should I Eat? (Eat Food)
  • Part 2: What Kinds of Food Should I Eat? (Mostly Plants)
  • Part 3: How Should I Eat? (Not Too Much)

Of the 64 rules, I’m glad to say I follow almost all of them. I think at times Pollan re-used the same rules, he just cleverly re-worded them. For example: Rule 46: Stop Eating Before You’re Full and Rule 61: Leave Something On Your Plate. 

Each rule receives about a page of explanation, some rules receive no explanation as the meaning is pretty evident. I like that Pollan keeps his explanations simple, and I love that this little booklet is not preachy. I think it’s the perfect book for someone looking to change their eating lifestyle. It’s an easy to follow guide that you can apply when shopping at the grocery store.  What Pollan is promoting is not just a healthy diet. It’s a change in our consumer habits both financially and regarding food.

To be honest, making a change like this is not easy and it does not happen overnight. My husband and I used to eat corn dogs and tater tots for dinner, regularly. Our excuse was that we were too tired or lazy to cook. Having read books like Fatland &  In Defense of Food, and having gotten addicted to Bravo’s Top Chef, we slowly began to experiment with meals in the kitchen. This experimentation led to us realizing just how terribly we ate in comparison to how healthy we could be eating. Add frequent trips to the farmer’s market and voila. 3 years later, we have a healthy container garden on our balcony, we eat more fruits and veggies than we eat meat, and we have eliminated soda almost completely from our lives.

The important thing to remember, and something Pollan only touched upon in this book, is that food should be fun and food should be enjoyed.

Find this book at your local library 

Book 44 of 2011

 Book 5

Earth: A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race (John Stewart) – Review

Earth (the audiobook) : a visitor's guide to the human raceEarth: A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race by John Stewart & The Daily Show
Age: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction / Science / Social Science
Format: Audio CD
Hatchette Audio, 2010
3 discs, 3 hours & 38 minutes

On a recent road trip to Southern California, I picked up this audio book hoping for entertainment for the long drive. My husband and I were not disappointed. My husband is a tough one to please with audio books, but we are both big fans of John Stewart and the Daily Show. This audio book is thoroughly informative, entertaining and amusing in a satirical way. John Stewart narrates the majority of the book, which is written as a guide of the human race to a future alien race that finds planets Earth long after the human race has gone completely extinct.

Samantha Bee, Wyatt Cenac, Jason Jones and John Oliver provide wonderful color commentaries by elaborating and interpreting certain points. From disc 1 to disc 3, Stewart and crew discuss the origin of planet Earth, the solar system, the history of culture, of religion, of food, pop culture, the continents, industry, etc. The delivery is dry and satirical. There is a black humor throughout the book as Stewart points out the aspects of life we avoid and aspects of life that we can proud revel in. This book leaves a lot of ideas up for discussion. I like that about this book. Although there are times where the human race is shamed for its actions, I never felt that any one guide was singled out unjustly and I didn’t feel as if Stewart and Co. forced their views onto the listener.

Find this book at your local library 

Book 43 of 2011

soundbytes picture