Audiobook: Go Back to Where You Came From

by Wajahat Ali
Read by the author
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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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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!)
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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
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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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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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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.

Audio book: Taste

by Stanley Tucci
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some mild swearing, and then a handful of f-bombs that kind of come out of nowhere. It’s in the Cooking Reference and Biography sections of the bookstore.

Ah, Stanley Tucci gave me a wonderful gift: two of my favorite kinds of guilty pleasure books — celebrity memoirs and foody books — in one delightful listen. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

It’s basically a brief overview of Tucci’s life — not really in any depth, but more of an overview — highlighting on the role food played (and it played a big role) in his life. Italian food is his heritage, and the connection he feels to it (and opinions about it) is great and fascinating. It’s interesting to listen to his stories about food and family and meals he remembers, and he doesn’t spend much time dishing about the “business” or his personal life. It really is all about the food for him, which is something I can’t complain about. Plus: there are recipes! (And at least one I want to try.)

He’s a good narrator, too, making the listener feel as if he’s there telling you his story. It was the perfect listen for me right now, and I’m glad I did.

Undefeated

by Steve Sheinkin
First sentence: “Jim Thorpe looked ridiculous and he knew it – like a scarecrow dressed for football, he’d later say.”
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Content: There are problematic elements regarding Native representation. It’s in the kids biography section of the bookstore.

As part of our Native people unit in this class I am taking, we had to choose a problematic book to read. I was super surprised to see Sheinkin’s work on the list for problematic; I have a hih respect for his work, and assumed that all of his research wa sipeccalbe.

In this instance, he’s looking at the Carlisle Indian School, a residential school — for “civilizing the natives” — run by the government in the late 1800s though the early 1990s. They ended up with a football program, one that went up against the “big” schools of the time — Harvard, Penn, Yale, and Princeton — even though they were a lot smaller and more poorly equipped. It’s also the history of Jim Thorpe, who ended up being the one of Carlisle’s — and possibly the sport’s — greatest athletes. Where Sheinkin ends up being problematic is in the way he talks about the school and about Thorpe’s Native history. As a white person, Sheinkin doesn’t even know what he doesn’t know, and doesn’t know what it is how it is that he needs to write about it. It makes sense that the book would end up being problematic. .

Truthfully, the part of the book I found most fascinating was the history of football. Sheinkin is an excellent writer and was able to write about the games in a way that made them leap off the page. It was interesting to learn about what the game was like in the early days. And it was interesting to learn the role that Carlisle Indian School played in developing and changing the game.

So, yeah: problematic. But still interesting.

Black Girls Rock

by Beverly Bond (editor)
First sentence :”There is a palpable blissfulness in our magic.”
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Content: It’s marketed to adults but there’s nothing objectionable. It’s in the Sociology section of the bookstore.

Bond put together a series o short personal essays from a bunch of famous Black women: activists, politicians, actors, musicians, and artists. They each told a small slice of their own story and successes. I’m not sure what the purpose was; possibly it was hoping to inspire other Black women to become their best selves. Maybe it was a collection to highlight the diversity in black Black womanhood (which it did well) and the range of experiences and successes Black women have had.

I wanted to like the book more than I actually did. I like the idea of the book. I like that this book exists. But reading it was a bit of a chore. Some of the essays were well, not great. You could tell that many weren’t writers. And while I wanted to care about their stories, I didn’t always.

Is it an important book? Yes. Was it a good one? I’m not entirely sure.