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Archive for the ‘Two Peas in a Pod: Similar Themes’ Category

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We have returned from our annual “gone reading” break. And boy, did we read.

We are excited to share our new favorites with you over the next few months, but to begin this autumnal season of blogging, we gave ourselves the task of picking ONE book each for this first post-“gone reading” post. Emerging from our discussions about this first post was a realization that we both read great books that address education. Hence, today’s selections include reviews of three books (Lisa Cadow could not narrow her selection to one) with education at their heart.

Don’t worry, we have plenty more recommendations to share before the holidays (e.g., the new Robert Galbraith thriller, a novel by a first time Colombian-American author, and an adoption memoir). We also have some exciting guest blogs lined up; and, we are thrilled Pages in the Pub and BOOK BUZZ both happen this autumn, providing additional opportunities to highlight great books reviewed by fun and interesting people.

However, to begin, today we offer three recommendations around the theme of education.Related image

Educated: A Memoir Cover ImageEducated by Tara Westover (2018) – During this back-to-school time of year, it only seems appropriate to focus our energies on books that have to do with themes of academia. Such is the case with Educated, one of the most affecting memoirs of 2018 (or, for that matter, of the past several years). In many ways this story is about author Tara Westover’s educational journey from her family’s rural homestead in Idaho where she received no formal tutelage, worked in the junkyard on their property, while only barely passing the GRE to matriculate to Brigham and Young. It concludes when she earns her PhD from Cambridge University in England. It is an astounding and moving narrative which often leaves the reader shaking her head in bewilderment. But when the last page is turned, this book is even more importantly about something that lies beyond formal learning and the ivory tower. It is about standing up for one’s self, making sense of reality, and finally harnessing the strength to say “This is my truth.”

Many readers have observed that this book reminds them of Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls‘ affecting and best-selling memoir. This makes sense as they are both books about surviving and succeeding professionally unusual childhoods. And yet Westover’s experience deserves to stand alone. It’s that good. It offers a window into the Mormon experience, life in the West, and also addresses the the difficult subject of domestic abuse. Highly recommended and an excellent choice for book groups. ~Lisa Cadow

Chemistry: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageChemistry by Weike Wang (2017). Yet another book placed in the setting of academia and one of my very favorites of the year! Once I started reading this, the pages just began to turn themselves. Our nameless narrator takes us on a journey set in Cambridge, Massachusetts where at the outset she is pursuing a PhD in Chemistry while living with her kind and attentive boyfriend Eric. It is funny, smart, observant, and poetic. It also takes us with her to challenging places of self-doubt, reflects on a less than perfect childhood as a first generation Chinese American, and grapples with the contradictions and cliches of being a woman in 21st century America.

Some reviewers have described this as a book about indecision, others have said it is about depression. Pieces have been written about Chemistry as one new important books that highlights the Anglo-Asian experience For me, what Wang is sharing a truth transcends cultural experience or a DSM-5 diagnosis. I found it to be a story of an interesting young woman struggling with what it means to succeed in her field, looking for meaning in her work, and questioning deeply what it would look like to create a family for herself. Also highly recommended for book groups. There’s a lot to talk about here. ~Lisa Cadow

Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen Cover ImageDear America: Notes of an undocumented citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas (2018) — This book offers a poignant, plainly spoken, well-crafted, and intimate look at life as an undocumented worker in the USA. Mr. Vargas is possibly the most famous undocumented citizen in the USA and uses his Pulitzer Prize winning writing abilities to create an insightful and searing look at what being undocumented actually means.  What emerges is a portrait of many things I assumed would be part of an undocumented worker’s life – hard work, fear, contributing to one’s community, and hardships associated with maintaining basic dignity.  What I had not previously considered is how extraordinarily difficult it is to live a life with a lie at its core. What is the education connection? Well, despite Mr. Vargas’s contention this book is about homelessness, I would argue that the book repeatedly demonstrates the importance of great schools, amazing teachers, good books, and mentors. Basically, this book illustrates what education can open for so many. And, as with the other two picks in this post, this memoir is highly recommended (and timely based on recent news) for Book Clubs. ~ Lisa Christie

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This week’s heat in Vermont makes it a bit too warm to cook; thus, today we highlight books that are “sort of” about cooking. Maybe they will inspire you to cook. Maybe they will inspire you to sit and read, perhaps with a cool tomato salad and some watermelon as nourishment.  We also note that both provide a great break from the news cycle we seem to be caught in of shootings and political divisiveness. So, when your news feed is too hot to handle, and/or when the thought of cooking fries your brain, find a nice icy drink, sit in a comfy chair, and try these two titles.

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FC9780307718297.jpgComing to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook by Alice Waters (2017). It is a sweet and savory pleasure to read this American culinary icon’s memoir. Learning about Alice Water’s mid-western childhood, a pivotal family move to California in her teens, and traveling with her in the late 60’s on a rather footloose and fancy-free trip through Europe sets the stage for the somewhat haphazard opening of Chez Panisse in the 1970’s. She’s a fascinating mash-up: her creative, free-spirited side reminds one a bit of Patti Smith, but her culinary vision is more of a Julia Child (minus the formal training). Her story offers a fascinating window into the vibrant art and political scene in San Francisco “back in the day.” It also serves to remind us that the making of an influential and  important institution, in this case Chez Panisse, does not necessarily start out with a big budget or perfection on opening night — but rather with passion, intuition, and a deep desire to learn. I was struck again and again by how delicious food need not be fancy, but instead sourced with attention to the land and farmers. Several Alice Water’s fans lamented the fact that there isn’t a great deal of new information about her in this book, but for this reader who is somewhat new to her fan club, it opened the door on a good view into to her kitchen, her life, and influences. I appreciate the inspiration it offered, too: as soon as I turned the last page, I pulled out my copy of The Art of Simple Food and with her voice as a guide, whipped up a delectable aioli (with local Vermont eggs, of course) to serve alongside some gently steamed artichokes. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9781451674200.jpgComfort Food Diaries: My quest for the perfect dish to mend a broken heart by Emily Nunn (2017) – Part cook book, part memoir, part recipe for regaining one’s equilibrium, this book by former New Yorker editor Emily Nunn, won some diverse recognition: NPR’s Best Books of 2017, Best Books on Food of 2017, The Guardian, Best Food-Focused Memoirs, Eater, Top 10 Narrative Food & Drink Books, Booklist, 20 Best Cookbooks, The Telegraph. And while I saw these reviews and was intrigued, it was not until a former roommate (who went to college with Ms. Nunn) put this in my hands that I managed to read this tale. In it, Ms. Nunn describes how during one life-changing, alcohol-enhanced night, she takes to Facebook for help with managing her brother’s death, a devastating breakup with her fiance, and her subsequent eviction from the home that they shared.  The next morning, she discovers many of her friends want to help and offer their couches, guest rooms, and kitchens to her to use while she puts her life back together. Thus, her “Comfort Food Tour” begins. Luckily for us readers, she chronicled her journey across America searching for what food comforts others in the hopes one of these dishes will unlock something for herself. Ms. Nunn manages to make her descent into the depths of personal angst and depression funny, insightful, and delicious – with recipes sprinkled throughout. As the indie-booksellers state in their review, Ms. Nunn “delivers a moving account of her descent into darkness and her gradual, hard-won return to the living”. I am glad my friend sent this to me. I hope you will be glad this found its way to you as well. ~ Lisa Christie

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A major part of this blog’s mission is to put the right book in the right hands at the right time. This is powerful stuff – and no easy task. This can mean helping a book group to find a thought-provoking read for their next month’s gathering (Best Books for Book Groups). It can also be about helping people at holiday time to select the perfect book to give as a gift (Pages in the Pub). Recently, however, we have begun moving deeper into the community to connect people with the pages that might right for them. “BOOK BUZZ” is a successful initiative we now run regularly in local schools that has kids “talking books” with their peers, while simultaneously raising money for their libraries. Most recently of all, in fall 2017, we launched an effort to help bring book discussions to our town library that focus on medical issues. This is what we call “Novel Medicine.”

So why “Novel Medicine”? Try to think about it this way: “medicine” and “healing” are things that can happen both in and outside of an exam room or a hospital. In creating this series, we wanted to further explore the powerful learning and behavior change that can happen outside of a formal medical space when someone reads a book and talks about it – be it a novel, a memoir, or a collection of poems. This group is intended to put the right book in the right hands at the right time in a slightly different way: it aims to more pointedly explore the intersection between reading and dialogue, and health and wellness.

Discussions have to this point been moderated by Book Jam blogger Lisa Low Cadow, who is by night an avid reader and by day a health coach at Dartmouth Health Connect, a primary care clinic in Hanover, New Hampshire. (And, they have recently been hosted by the Norwich Public Library.) Her interest in this idea grew out of the thousands of hours she has spent in exam rooms with patients as well as in her role as facilitator in a Women’s Health and Wellness Group which over the past five years has read over ten books together. During this time, she has noticed the transformative effect that books, especially novels, can have on self-understanding and healing.

So far on our “Novel Medicine” journey we’ve read two graphic novels and a memoir, all of which are reviewed below. Each of these three works are excellent and inspired rich and robust conversations. For the two graphic novels we chose, we took advantage of a free program being offered by the National Library of Medicine (NILM) called “Graphic Medicine” which lends complete kits to groups or individuals interested in running this kind of discussion. Each kit includes six books, a discussion guide, as well as clinical information about the medical conditions being discussed. (For more information on the International 2018 Graphic Medicine Conference that is being held this August at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, just downstream from us, click on the following link: https://www.graphicmedicine.org/2018-vermont-conference/.)

We’d love to know your thoughts about this initiative and any books that readers might suggest that we might consider next.

FC9780452295544.jpgMy Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor (2009) You may have already seen the powerful  TED talk given by author Jill Bolte Taylor. It is one of the most viewed videos in their collection because her experience of having a stroke at aged 38 was a powerful one  — and the way she communicates about her learning is extremely moving. Taylor’s book has an equally profound effect on readers. Up until she had her stroke, Taylor was a Harvard trained neuroscientist at the peak of her career. She was both teaching about and continuing to study the brain. Then one morning, out of the blue, she experienced a stroke on the left side of her brain which profoundly impacted not only the rest of her life but also her understanding of the human experience, spirituality, and of how healing traumatic brain injuries needs to be approached. A must read for: all who have a brain(!) — but also for those who may have experienced a concussion and want to learn more about how the mind works and how to better heal it.  ~Lisa Cadow

FC9781592407323.jpgMarbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney (2012).  In this brave, candid, and brilliantly illustrated memoir about her bipolar disease, Forney takes readers on the roller coaster ride of her experience from her early twenties before her formal diagnosis, through the waves of her initial manic episodes (that include uber creativity as well as hyper-sexuality; reader beware), down to the depths of her depression, and through the difficult slog of figuring out how to effectively prescribe (and take) her medications.  This memoir is brutally honest – Forney doesn’t shy away from things that are raw and even potentially embarrassing. It is such an essential read for those trying to better understand what bipolar really means, what it is like to live with it, what the support of love ones can mean when challenged with behavioral health issues, and how management IS possible. Don’t underestimate the power that drawings can have on conveying a storyline and accompanying emotion! This was one of the most powerful books I read in 2017 and one that I have now recommended to numerous patients and friends. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780375423185.jpgEpileptic by David B. (2006) – What is the experience of someone who grows up with a sibling who develops epilepsy at age 11? How does it affect family dynamics? How does it affect siblings who are trying to grow up and become independent during this time? How do friends, family, and the kids on your street treat you? What effect do multiple seizures and strong medications have on a human body? So many questions – and this book offers David B.’s experience and personal answers. This fascinating work was immensely popular in France (as it was originally written and published there in the late 1990’s) and has now been translated into multiple languages. It is intimate and takes the reader into a very personal place and space in the Beauchard family, through their family tree, and then into the adult life of David B. in Paris as a student and then as an aspiring cartoonist. His art is affecting and is heavily influenced by his fascination with mythic creatures and battles, heroes and monsters. One of the most memorable aspects of his work are the three “beasty” best friends, imaginary beings who shadow him through his childhood and help support him through his brother’s illness. Also fascinating is how David B. represents the changing and aging of his brother, sister, and parents. Particularly recommended for those who have acted as caretaker or caregiver during a loved one’s chronic illness.   ~Lisa Cadow

Stay tuned for more on this new Book Jam program; and in the meantime, enjoy these great books.

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Mother’s Day is on the horizon, and after some recent excellent reading, we feel the need to recommend some good books for gift giving. However, we have done this many times in the past, and don’t want to be too repetitive.

So instead, today we review some new books about motherhood that perhaps everyone should read in preparation for honoring – and remembering what it’s like to be – mothers.

All of these titles would make great gifts for the mothers in your life – they feature edgy, introspective, smart, honest, and fun writing. And, if you are still looking for more ideas for gifts, you can find some great titles in all our past reviews, including the ones where we tried to cultivate a specific list for mom’s day gifts.

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

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FC9780062838742.jpgAmateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words by Kimberly Harrington (2018) – This collection of essays features a distinctive voice (one that is often seen in The New Yorker, and McSweeney’s) that applies humor, tears, cursing, love, and unique insight to almost every aspect of motherhood/life: a failed pregnancy, relocating across the country, a request to end “mommy wars” steeped with insight from both sides, grandparents/Florida, to do lists, meal-train etiquette, participation trophies, parenting experts, plane rides with kids, and partners. You will grin throughout this collection, as each essay is graced with humor and humility. You will tear-up a bit reading many of the essays as some are poignant and unsparing (e.g., a retelling of a failed pregnancy, and/or a story of a fight over divorcing – they didn’t – that uses FB “likes” to score points). Quick note: we found this book because one of its chapters was a recent Op-Ed in The New York Times.

My new short-term goal – to meet this author. Since we are both Vermonters, achieving it may be as simple as just driving the state asking who knows her; eventually, with this method, I will find her. So be forewarned Ms. Harrington, I may exhibit stalker like tendencies soon. But more likely, I will merely ask the fabulous booksellers at the Norwich Bookstore to let Ms. Harrington know she has a new fan. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780316393843.jpgAnd Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell (2018) – The catchy title of this new memoir immediately begs the question: “But is anyone ever ready for motherhood?” O’Connell initially thinks that she is, though her positive pregnancy test does come as a surprise to her and her fiance. With this book, she bravely charts her physical and emotional journey from single New York career woman-writer to the end of her first year with a toddler. Nothing is off limits: her pregnancy anxieties, a difficult labor, her maternal ambivalence, sex (or lack thereof) after delivery, “to daycare or not to daycare?”, or finding new, true mommy friends. In a nutshell, O’Connell describes the wonder-filled but very rocky road to becoming a family of three in a timeless yet contemporary way. Even as a mother with adult children, I fully related to her emotions – the raw, honest way that she writes made my own experiences feel close and fresh again.  I even found a tear of recognition rolling down my cheek in her final chapter. As soon as I finished, I ran out and purchased a copy for a friend who is newly pregnant. It is the perfect gift for new mothers.

We found our way to this book because it was featured in an excellent New York Times piece about recent books about motherhood. ~ Lisa Cadow

BONUS PICK

FC9780544002234.jpgAre You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel (2012) – One of us read this graphic novel years ago when it first published; one of us is in the midst of it now.  Thus, neither of us can review it in detail today. However, it immediately sprang to mind when we thought about this post. So, for today’s review, we will use the words of Jonathan Safran Froer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything is Illuminated,Are You My Mother is a work of the most humane kind of genius, bravely going right to the heart of things: why we are who we are. It’s also incredibly funny. And visually stunning. And page-turningly addictive. And heartbreaking.” We both found our way to this book because we are huge fans of Ms. Bechdel (note: a fellow Vermonter).

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Every year we audit the diversity of the authors we review because we truly believe we are what we read; and also because we truly believe that the best way to expand your horizons (when you can’t actually travel) is to read books written by or about people who are different from you. It is our hope these audits expose the voices we are missing in our libraries, and allow us to fill those gaps in our next year of reviews.

During the twelve months since our February 2017 audit, we reviewed 164 authors. If you have no interest in the audit results and only wish to see our new reviews of four great books, just scroll down to the next image — the new reviews start there.

The fine print for this audit: We did not include guest columns or the “3 Questions” series, because we don’t control their selections. We also excluded books written by groups such as Lonely Planet or series written by a variety of authors. Although we know some of the authors we highlighted identify as members of the LGBTQ community, we do not know the sexual orientations for all the authors we review, and thus do not audit by sexual orientation. We also do not have access to economic class statistics. Thus, our diversity audit focuses on gender and race/ethnicity.

Now some significant numbers from this latest audit: Women authors were 59% of the authors we featured. Fewer than half (41%) of all authors we featured were white women, and some (18%) of all authors we read were white women from outside the USA. Fewer than 10% of our featured authors were Latinas (5%) or Asian women (4%); and, 15% of the authors were black (either African or African-American) women.

There was slightly less diversity of country and ethnicity in the men we reviewed. Almost a third (28%) of the authors we featured were white men from outside of the USA. Ten percent of the male authors were black. Very few authors we featured were Asian men (1%) or Latinos (1%).

Adding men and women together, 32% of the authors we reviewed were persons of color. Within the white authors there was geographic diversity — more than half (55%) of the white authors we featured were from outside the USA (i.e., Canada, UK, Australia, Sweden). The largest group (25% of total authors reviewed) of authors of color were black (African or African American).

To sum, while we are improving the diversity of the authors reviewed — 26% of authors in 2016 and 23% in 2015 were persons of color — the fact remains that not quite a third (32%) of the authors we featured during the past 12 months were authors of color. So, once again, we vow to continue to search the shelves for a diversity of authors.

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And now some new reviews.

We begin February – Black History Month – by highlighting some great, new books by authors who identify as black.

FC9781250171085.jpgWhen They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors (2018) – This memoir by one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement powerfully combines her personal experiences as a black woman in the USA with overarching social commentary about life for black Americans living in poverty. Her family’s story is incredibly moving and her prose makes all she has dealt with in her short life incredibly accessible. In the process, she also outlines the work, people, and dreams behind Black Lives Matter, a story greatly enhanced by her candor about her personal journey. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780871407535.jpgThe Annotated African American Folktales edited by Henry Louis Gates and Maria Tatar (2018) – Susan Voake of the Norwich Bookstore brought this to our attention with her recent review — “Hallelujah! Let’s begin 2018 with a landmark volume by two luminaries in their fields. Collections of African American folktales have been available, specifically for children, for the last thirty years. For the first time, they are collected and annotated by authorities in both African American culture and world folklore for the popular adult audience.” I agree this volume is worth reading, as well as owning, for years to come. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062359995.jpgAnother Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (2016) – This novel was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2016, but somehow I only just read it last week. (Perhaps I was too busy reading her fabulous children’s books.) In this adult novel, August, the novel’s main character, and her closest girlfriends believe Brooklyn is a magical place where they feel beautiful and capable, and they know a bright future is theirs for the taking. It is also a place where men behave badly, mothers have difficulties coping, and madness often prevails. Told in sparse prose, Ms. Woodson provides insight into growing up a black girl in the USA, and city life in NYC. If you need further persuasion her work is worth reading, she has been recognized with the Coretta Scott King, Newberry Honor, and a Caldecott Honor awards, just to name a few. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781594206252.jpgFeel Free by Zadie Smith (2018) – Essays by one of my favorite writers are always a reason to celebrate. This new collection contains musings about social networks, joy, the Oscar-nominated movie “Get Out”, Rome, mourning, and Key and Peele. As always, this book contains her precise, beautiful, and thought-provoking prose. Enjoy! (Thank you to children’s librarian extraordinaire Ms. Beth for letting us borrow your advance copy of this superb collection so we could include it today.) ~ Lisa Christie

And, we finish with some political cartooning.

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NOTE — this talk was postponed to February 16th due to icy weather.

This week we feature “3 Questions” with Cullen Murphy, author of Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-BelieveMr. Murphy is the editor-at-large at Vanity Fair and the former managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly. (He is  also the brother of the The Long Haul author and truck driver Finn Murphy who visited The Norwich Bookstore last year.)

Cartoon County tells the story of Mr. Murphy’s father — John Cullen Murphy – the illustrator of the wildly popular comic strips Prince Valiant and Big Ben Bolt, and a man who had been trained by Norman Rockwell. Cartoon County focuses on a period of time in the last century when many of the the nation’s top cartoonists and magazine illustrators – including Mr. Murohy’s father – were neighbors in the southwestern corner of Connecticut. This book, through the lens of the author’s relationship with his father, brings the postwar American era and life in the arts alive.

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Mr. Murphy will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, January 17th. This Norwich Bookstore event offers an excellent opportunity to learn about this unique place and time in the 20th century. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save a seat and/or secure your autographed copy of Cartoon County.

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1.What three books have helped shape you into the writer and editor you are today, and why?

A Sense of Where You Are, by John McPhee. This was McPhee’s profile of Bill Bradley as a Princeton basketball player, and I read it in college. It made me aware of the possibilities of a certain kind of literary reporting. Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome. A teacher gave me this nineteenth-century romp when I was in seventh grade in Ireland–there was a kind of high-end silliness about it that has offered a reminder ever since not to take yourself too seriously. Big Story, by Peter Braestrup. Peter was a mentor, and this book was his account of how the press reported the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. It was influential because the account offers many cautionary tales; because it demonstrated that a journalist could do scholarly work; and because I watched him research and write it even as he held a full-time job, showing how that was done.

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2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

Maybe William James. From what I can tell just from his writing–I’ve never read a biography, and should–he seems to have combined an omnidirectional mind and a genial disposition. And for someone who was at his peak around the turn of the last century, he comes across as someone whom you could bump into tomorrow and think you were meeting a contemporary. You would never think that about his novelist brother.

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Munich, by Robert Harris. I’m a big Robert Harris fan, and would especially recommend his Rome trilogy, built around Cicero. (Also Pompeii–the opening scene is a classic.) Dinner at the Center of the Earth, by Nathan Englander. I’ve loved Englander’s work ever since reading the early stories of his that we published in The Atlantic. And Grant, by Ron Chernow. Anything by Chernow is worthwhile. Although Hamilton has gotten the most attention–for obvious reasons–I was captivated by his biographies of Rockefeller and Washington.

NOTE: As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing and the living of life, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore or bookstore related venues. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to both attend these special author events and read their books.

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So Halloween, it’s a time where we dress up as things we fear, and a time where the things we don’t want to talk about come to our doorstep asking for candy — no not the children, but the grim reaper, or witches, or corpses, or (name your demon here).

The parade of costumes last week, and a recent conversation during which one of our teens lamented, “Why can’t I have parents who don’t talk about uncomfortable things?” has us thinking — How does one develop comfort talking about uncomfortable topics?

Our answer, of course, is reading great books helps get these conversations started. So today, we are recommending books to help you think and ideally talk about some uncomfortable topics. May they all lead to great conversations.

Three items to note: 1) We experienced frustrating technical difficulties yesterday, denying us the chance to keep to our posting schedule of Mondays. 2) In our attempt to include all readers, we generated a long list of books and topics for this post. 3) We are making lemonade out of lemons and using some creative flexibility, by posting on two Tuesdays – today and next week. Today, we tackle death, mental health, addiction, and sexual assault. Next week – race, sexual identity, and politics. We truly hope these reviews lead to books that help us all have difficult conversations more often (or at least to better understand the news of late).

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Death

FC9781632861016.jpgCan’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (2014) – First brought to our attention by Lucinda Walker, town librarian extraordinaire, this memoir is funny, poignant, and helpful. It truly offers a superbly humorous way to approach failing health and ultimately death. As Lucinda said in her six-word review during the 2014 Pages in the Pub, “Laugh. Cry. Laugh again. Then talk”. ~ Lisa Christie

When Breath Becomes Air Cover ImageWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi (2016) – (First reviewed in the summer of 2016.) At the outset, we know that the author, 36-year old Paul will succumb to lung cancer at the height of his career as a neurosurgeon. Don’t let this deter you from reading his incredible story and from benefiting from the insights he gleaned during his short life. Dr. Kalinithi is a brilliant writer who was curious from a young age about the workings of the mind and it’s connection to our soul. He studied philosophy and creative writing before committing to medicine. These studies give him other lenses from which to explore profound questions. He is candid with the reader about his personal and professional struggles. Ultimately, I found this book hopeful and inspiring. When I turned the last page I immediately wanted to share it with loved ones. ~ Lisa Cadow (and seconded by Lisa Christie)

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Mental Health 

FC9780525555360.jpgTurtles All The Way Down by John Green (2017) – As someone for whom Mr. Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars devastated and sustained me because I read it while a lovely, young friend died from cancer, and as someone for whom his An Abundance of Katherines, had me laughing aloud as I pictured the text as an old-fashioned buddy movie (with a Muslim teen in a starring role), I hesitated to read Mr. Green’s latest novel as I was afraid it would disappoint. It does not. The main character – Aza and her best friend Daisy – a writer of Star Wars fan fiction, meander through high school, first loves, and math in Indianapolis. However, Aza also suffers from spiralling thoughts that take over her life, a mental health condition treated in a straightforward and insightful manner as this lovely tale unfolds. The characters feel real, the situations are not cliche, and Mr. Green’s writing about teen life propels the reader forward faster than he or she might wish — savoring a good story is a gift we all can benefit from. Perhaps, what touched me the most was his matter of fact acknowledgement at the end of the novel that mental illness affects Mr. Green’s own life. I also appreciated his gift of providing resources in his end notes, and second his hope that those who suffer from mental illness are not alone in their journeys. ~ Lisa Christie

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Addiction

FC9780393608960.jpgThe Outrun by Amy Liptrot (2017) – When Amy Liptrot decides to confront her alcoholism head on, she makes a beeline from the bright lights and big city of London to her home in the Orkney Islands of northern Scotland. She grew up there on a farm;  the “outrun” refers to a remote pasture on her parents’ land. In this frank memoir (one reviewers and readers alike have compared to Helen MacDonald’s phenomenal 2015  H Is For Hawk) Ms. Liptrot reflects on her sense of place and the role her upbringing played in her addiction. Her journey shares her triumphs, learnings, and challenges. She brings us to the brink  — and to the northernmost reaches of Scotland, writing at one point from an isolated cottage on the island of Papa Westray, where Scotland’s oldest dwelling is located dating from 3500BC. Highly moving, haunting, and recommended. ~Lisa Cadow

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Sexual Assault

FC9780804170567.jpgMissoula by Jon Krakauer (2015) – It took awhile for this to get to the top of my bedside stack of books, but once I started I could not put it down. Mr. Krakauer’s rigorously researched analysis of 52 months of reported sexual assaults around the University of Montana is enlightening, sad, anger-provoking and most tragically could have been written in so many college towns. This is important, read it, ponder it, and somehow act to end a culture in which victims are punished over and over again. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781449486792.jpgthe sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur (2017) – Somehow we missed Ms. Kaur’s first best-selling book, but in a time where the news is full of people behaving horribly and many of us feel angst and hopelessness, Ms. Kaur’s honest poems about heart-break, loss, rape, love, relationships, and hope seem needed. This collection is divided into five sections wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming; falling deals with sexual assault and it’s aftermath. We leave you with a quote from this collection, “to hate is an easy, lazy thing, but to love takes strength everyone has, but not all are willing to practice”. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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