Mother Brain

by Chelsea Conaboy
First sentence: “What does it mean to become a mother?”
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Release date: September 13, 2022
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: It’s very science-y and gets in the weeds with the science sometimes. It will be in the Science section of the bookstore.

I picked this up because my boss pulled it off the ARC shelves at work, and asked if I would be willing to give it a look-over and maybe nominate it for IndieNext. I figured I’d just read a few pages and give it a look, but I soon found myself engrossed in it.

The basic premise of the book is Conaboy’s experience being a pregnant person. She didn’t have the “ideal” and “expected” experience with pregnancy and mothrehood, and that lead her to look into the science of it. She’s not a scientist but rather a journalist who covers health and science, which gives her an interseting angle into the subject.

learned so much, and felt so validated with my own experience being a pregnant person. There were a lot of times that I underlined and dog-eared the pages because what she wrote resonated with me. It was so validating to know that the science – as little as there is – validated what I was feeling, that there isn’t one way to be preganant and a new parent.

I’d put this up there with Invisible Women as an important science book that just proves the need for science to include non-cishet men in their studies, in order to get broader picture of what it means to be human.

Highly recommended.

This is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch

by Tabitha Carvan
First sentence: “What are you thinking about?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some talk about erotica and some swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the CreativeNon-Fiction section of the bookstore.

So, this is kind of a book about Benedict Cumberbatch. Or rather, Carvan’s obsession with the actor. It sounds silly going in: she’s writing about how she became obsessed and all the emotions and thoughts that went through her head after she realized her obsession. But, it’s more than that: it’s an exploration into the nature of obsession, of what it means to passionately love something and the nature of female-centric fandoms. She touches on how obsessions seen as acceptible for men (birdwatching, loving music, being into sports) are deemed “unacceptable” and “weird” for women. Caravan is a funny writer, and she often made me laugh. I absolutely related to what she was saying — especially how she lost herself once she became a mother — and how being obsessed with Benedict Cumberbatch (you really kind of have to say his full name, don’t you?) helped her find her way back to herself. It’s a reminder that it’s good to have something you’re deeply in love with, something to call your own, and how important that can be to one’s identity.

I found it not only to be entertaining, but enlightening, and I appreciated it.

Audiobook: Easy Beauty

by ChloƩ Cooper Jones
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: there are some disturbing conversations about people with disabilites, and swearing, including some f-bombs. It’s in the Biography section of the bookstore.

I’m not sure what I expected when I started this memoir about a woman who has gone through life with a rare condition that affects her physical appearance and the way she interacts with the world. But, it also affects the way other people see her, the way she is regareded in the world. She literally sits in aa conversaiton where friends of hers (friends!) debate whether or not her life was worth living. She is told by doctors that she can’t get pregnant and then she is left ot wonder if it’s “fair” to bring a child into her world.

The book also muses on connections humans make as she goes through dealing with her father’s multiple affairs, and on art as she tries to make sense of her world through the beauty of someone else’s imagination. She travels and experiences the world that way. It’s got stories, yes, but also thoughts about art and connection and life and motherhood that I found both insightful and valuable. I learned a lot about how Jones looks at the world and how being dismissive of the experiences of those with disabilities is damaging and limiting.

Jones was a good narrator, telling her own story and keeping me engaged throughout. It’s not what I usually read, but I am really glad I did.

Audiobook: Go Back to Where You Came From

by Wajahat Ali
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

I had no idea who Ali was when I picked this up. I think it called to me because I’m always looking for immigrant stories, ones by people who don’t have my experiences. And although Ali is not an immigrant, he’s a first-generation American, which is just as interesting. It’s basically a memoir; Ali tells the story of how his parents came to America from Pakistan, his childhood, and then growing up and the trials he and his parents faced. (Spoiler: it’s a lot.) Ali tells his story with grace, keeping a reader/listener engaged with wry humor and just plain good storytelling.

It’s a good reminder of white privilege, and that there must be something bout this country if immigrants still want to keep trying to make a life here in the face of all the obstacles put in their way by white supremacy. Ali was a good person to spend a few hours with, and I feel like I learned something after having listened to his story. It was a good reminder that we’re all in it togeher in this huge melting pot we call America. Maybe we can even figure out how to make it work. Ali seems to have some hope for the future. I hope he’s right.

Audiobook: Wintering

by Katherine May
Read by: Rebecca Lee
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some talk of mental illness and depression. It’s in the Self Help section of the bookstore.

This was all the rage at the bookstore the first Christmas of the pandemic. Everyone seemed to need a “self help” (t’s not really a book about how to make it through difficult times that Christmas. it’s a bit weird, i know, reading aboook about winter in the spring (but this is when the hold came through; I don’t remember when I put it on hold), but the thing is, while this book is set over winter and kind of deals with cold and snow, it’s really more about the down times in our lives. The “winters of our lives – and not just age, May insisted, and I think she’s right, that “winter” can come anytime when we’re feeling low, or fallow, or just not “summery”. Maybe it’s because I’ve noticed that I’m really attended to the weather, but somehow that resonated with me.

There really isn’t much else to the book. I enjoyed the narrator, she was delightful to listen to and kept me interested in the story. But, it was a compelling story: I was interested in what May had used to help her through her winters. And maybe I’ll figure out how to accept and cope with mine, too, as I get older.

Worth reading any time of the year.

Tiny Habits

by BJ Fogg
First sentence: “Tiny is mighty.”
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Content: It’s pretty basic, with nothing too technical. it’s in the self-help section of the bookstore.

I don’t usually read self-help books, but I heard a small interview with Fogg on the NPR book podcast and thought it sounded interesting. Fogg is a behavior psychologist (and someone my husband knew at BYU), and has spent years string what makes people tick. And how habits form and are kept. It really boils down to this: behavior is motivation plus ability plus a prompt. The problem with most self-help stuff is that it focuses on motivation. And Fogg breaks it down to something simpler: it’s not motivation, it’s the action. We are trying to do something too big. Anyone can do something tiny, right? So, start there. Find a place that a habit fits into your life (a good prompt) and then start super small. Floss one tooth. Take a sip of water. Design the habit to fit with your life. Oh: And celebrate every. single. time.

It’s kind of fascinating to think about, how staring small with something can help habits grow. He had a lot of good insights into behavior and forming (and breaking) habits. I think it got a bit repetitive by the end but it mostly was a good and interesting read. And maybe I’ll even start trying out some tiny habits.

Audiobook: Four Hundred Souls

Edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain
Read by a full cast (too many to list!)
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It does not sugar coat history. There are mentions of lynchings, rape, use of the n-word, and mild swearing. It’s in the history section of the bookstore.

I’ve had this on my TBR pile (the large one, not the small one by my bed) ever since it came out a year ago. And then I got a great idea from a bookstagrammer: read a little every day in February for black history month. I tried to get it done by the end of the month and almost made it. It was easy to break down into little sections: the book spans 400 years, but every author gets a 5 year period, and the sections are broken up into 40 years chunks. Each individual author gets to choose what they want to talk about: some focus on an event, some on a person, some on an idea. Many chose to relate their essay to the way the country is today. It’s less of a history book and more of a “how history has impacted today” book, which I appreciated. Not all essays were equally interesting, but there was enough for me to keep engaged. That, and the essays were generally very short – less than 5 minutes in audio. The narrators were all really good, for the most part. I think some of the essays were read by the authors, but since the narrators didn’t announce themselves before they began reading, I wasn’t sure. (They do all say their names a the end, but it was hard to match them up. Mostly I was like “Oh, they read? Cool!”)

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it and learning about the history of Blacks in America. Fascinating well-done book.

Audio book: The Storyteller

by Dave Grohl
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It’s very sweary. Very. Sweary. It’s in the Music section of the bookstore.

I listened to this in part because it has been getting lots and lots of good buzz, making end-of-year best-of books. I remember Nirvana (yeah, he’s the guy from Nirvana) getting big when I was in college, and listening to them a lot; I was into anything I could throw my body around on a dance floor too, and Nirvana fit the bill. But I wasn’t into them enough to know who the band members were. And yeah, I know about the Foo Fighters but I didn’t realize that their frontman was the same guy. But there’s also the pull of a celebrity memoir as read by the celebrity. I seriously love those.

This one completely lives up to the hype. Grohl is engaging as a, well, storyteller, giving the book a feeling of him sitting next to you, telling you the remarkable stories of his life. He has often been in the right places at the right times, and willing to take the chances he needs to take in rder to make the most of things. That’s not to say he doesn’t work for it as well: he is completely self-taught, practicing and practicing until he get thing “right” (the story of him playing Blackbird at the Ocsars demonstartes his work ethic really well).

But more than just being an enegaging storyteller, he’s telling really cool stories.It’s roughly chronologial, though it also bounces around, if he’s got a story to underline whatever point he’s trying to make at the time. Therewere many times when I went and watched videos on YouTube, just to see the story he was telling (like how the Come as You Are video was filmed washed out and hazy partially becase Cobain was tripped out on heroin, and how Grohl still can’t watch it to this day becuase it reminds him too much of the dark times and loss; or on a more upbeat note, the hilarious Fresh Pots). Grohl mostly keeps the book upbeat, but he does talk about Nirvana’s metoric rise to fame and how that affected everyone in the band, and the loss of Cobain, as well as Grohl’s best friend Jimmy. But, he recognizes he’s had a good life, and just wants to hare the good tiems and music with you.

In other words: I really quite loved this one.

Audiobook: On Animals

by Susan Orlean
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s nothing objectionable, except maybe some animal violence. It’s in the Science section of the bookstore and is probably good for anyone who loves animals.

I think it’s pretty well-accepted that Orlean is a fabulous non-fiction writer. And so an entire book filled with essays on different animals? Sign me up. She covers a whole range of animals from her adventures in chicken raising to her fascination with donkeys as well as other animals: lions, pigeons, mules, pandas, orca whales.

I learned so much about animals, some of which I knew but much of which I didn’t. Orlean has a dry sense of humor and some of the stories — there’s one about her picking a chicken to go on Marth Stewart as well as the story about her homicidal rooster, Laura — just cracked me up listening. She’s a good narrator, sounding just like I thought someone who has spent much time writing and researching non-fiction subjects (my first exposure to her was The Orchid Thief, which is just amazing) would sound. She takes her subjects seriously, but it doesn’t feel weighty.

An excellent book, highly recommended on audio.

Audiobook: Crying in H Mart

by Michelle Zauner
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There are some swear words, including a few F-bombs It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

This is basically Zauner’s homage to her Korean mother, who passed away from cancer in 2014. She goes through her childhood, how her relationship with her mother developed and struggled, and through her mother’s sickness and her death to the year or so afterward. The thing that ties everything together is Korean food. Her mother’s home cooking, the tastes and smells that accompanied Zauner all through her childhood trips to Seoul to see her mother’s family, and through to watching Mangchi on YouTube after her mother’s death, in order to learn the food traditions that she didn’t want to be lost.

It wasn’t a gad book, and Zauner wasn’t a bad narrator. But, I didn’t quite love it either. At times, Zauner felt like a whiny brat, and I just wanted to shake her. I suppose she was just being honest, and so I can admire her for that. The things I liked best were near the end when she starts learning how to cook Korean food. The chapter where she learns to make kimchee was fascinating. And I understood her pain (sort of? I haven’t lost anyone I was incredibly close to, really) or at the least, I understood that this was how she was processing her pain.

I can respect this book, at least, even if I didn’t love it.