Audiobook: Poverty, by America

by Matthew Desmond
Read by Dion Graham
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Content: There are a few mild swear words. It’s in the Sociology section of the bookstore.

I was moved by the stories of the people in Desmond’s Evicted, but I think there was a part of me that could put it at a distance. At least that’s not my life. But in Poverty, by America Desmond pulls no punches: poverty is not just a “them” problem. It’s something that affects ALL of us. 

In this short, to the point, book Desmond uses data to show how the system exploits poor people, from the TANF government funds that so many states misuse or use for programs other than to actually help poor people (for every $1 of the fund, only 22 cents make it into the hands of poor people) to the landlords who nickel and dime the poor into higher rents for lower quality apartments that they can get evicted from. But it’s more than that: it’s the middle class with our health care and mortgage subsidies (the middle class and wealthy are subsidized by the government at much if not more than poor people are) and the wealthy and businesses who are not made to pay their (measly, comparatively) tax share. 

It’s Desmond challenging the reader to think about whether a corporation pays their employees a living wage before shopping there. It’s a call for a universal basic income. It’s a lament that for the past 50 years, in one of the wealthiest countries on earth, no progress has been made to help the people living in poverty. 

It’s quite probably one of the most important books I’ve read and challenged me as well as changed my perspective on things. 

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Audiobook: B. F. F.

A Memoir of Friendship Lost and Found
by Christie Tate
Read by the Author
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Content: There is talk of eating disorders, alcoholism, and swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

In this memoir, Tate deconstructs her friendships with women, from the way she abandoned her high school friends for a (alcoholic, abusive) boyfriend, to the way she compared and sabotaged friendships as an adult. The throughline for all of this was, yes, her group therapy and recovery sessions, but also a woman she calls Merideth. A woman 20 years Tate’s senior with problems of her own that she is recovering from, Meredith became not just Tate’s rock to lean on, but her conscious and guiding hand. 

So what does one do when Meredith is diagnosed with an incurable and advanced form of cancer? How can she deal with being present for Meredith and with her own grief? How can she learn to be better?

I do have to say up front that, assuming all this is true, Tate is remarkably brave for putting it all out there. She is not likable for a good half of the book when she’s talking about how she abandoned friends due to jealousy and anger. She comes across as petulant and insecure, and yes I was judging her until I started really listening and figuring out where I’m like her. She has much to say about friendship, not just her friendships, and I think that part is worthwhile. The second part is Meredith’s decline and death, and I think Tate has a lot of good things to say about supporting people through that – not just the person who is ill, but the people around them as well – and about grief. But, the final section, after Meredith has passed on, where Tate writes letters about her healing and rekindling friendships she had thought she had permanently destroyed – that was the best section. I think it all had to be there, though. You had to get through petulant Tate to truly understand the healing process. 

While I think it’s kind of uneven in spots, it’s worth it for what Tate has to say about friendship, overall.

Audiobook: The Sum of Us

by Heather McGhee
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Content: It deals with some tough issues, and there is some swearing. It’s in the Sociology section of the bookstore.

Heather McGhee, a lawyer, former president of Demos, and someone who specializes in how the American economy works tackles how the idea of a “zero-sum game” between Black and white people is a losing proposition, and not just for people of color. For everyone. She looks at the economy, the housing market, environmental regulations, education, among other areas, and breaks down how racism is at the root of, well, pretty much everything, and how that is costing everyone. It’s especailly relevant for a white person to read: to be shown how white people, especially poor white people, will vote against their interests because the Powers That Be have convinced them that, well, at least they’re not Black (or Latinx, or an immigrant, or…)

I do have to admit up front that I’m not sure I got all her arguments and data, because I listened to the book and sometimes my attention wanders. And I was somewhat unsatisfied that there really wasn’t any clear solutions laid out, except for just “get out of your comfort zone, work with people not like you, and do better”. Which, in reality, is probably not a bad solution. There is a sense of urgency, though: things aren’t just going to get better on their own. If we want things to improve (and maybe we don’t because we’re white, and well-off, and maybe They should just Work Harder?), then we need to get involved. Start local. 

McGhee was a good narrator, and I think this is one of those books that i will think about for a long time. 

Audiobook: Lost & Found

by Kathryn Schulz
Read by the author
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Content: There’s some mild swearing and frank talk of dying. It’s in the Biography section of the bookstore.

The subtitle of this one is “Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness” and I think that sums the book up really well. Schulz divides the book up into three parts: Lost, in which she reflects on the death of her father, and the process of grieving him; Found, in which she recounts the story about how she met and came to marry her wife; and And, in which she talks about coming together, and the importance of community. It’s a simple premise, but Schulz pulls it off beautifully.

I first heard about this when one of our Random House reps, Bridget, spoke highly about how this book about grief and loss wasn’t sad but filled her with gratitude for living. And she’s right: yes, it’s a book about loss and grief, but it’s also a book about learning to live with loss and grief, and gratitude for the simple act of living. It’s reflective and poignant and sometimes quite funny. And Schulz is a good narrator; she reads well and is captivating to listen to.

In short: the RH rep was right: it’s one of the best books about loss that I’ve read in a long time.

Audiobook: Spare

by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
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Content: There is some swearing, including a few f-bombs, as well as talk of drinking and drug use. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

Okay, I recognize that by reading this book I’m caving to peer pressure – everyone is reading this to find out the gossip. But, in my defense: I love celebrity memoirs (especially on audio), and Prince Harry is probably more of a relevant celebrity than, say, Bono. So, it was probably inevitable that I was going to listen to it.

Is this the point where I mention that while I’m not ignorant of the royals, I’m also not a super royal watcher. They’re interesting because, well, they’re the Royal family, but I’m not super invested in what Kate’s wearing right now.

That said, I was floored by the life Prince Harry has led. He had some smart observations on the nature of celebrity, musing at one point that the only thing he ever did to deserve having paparazzi chase him was be born. He’s not talented, he’s not a musician or an actor. Why is he a “celebrity”? Because he was born into this particular family. It’s a smartly written memoir (I’m assuming he had a ghostwriter help him), and he reads it well. And, well, if the purpose of the book was to work through the trauma surrounding his mother’s death and to explain why, ultimately, he and Meghan had to leave the family, then he did his job. It starts with his mom’s death, and moves forward through to the present day, and let’s just say that he has a deep resentment of both the paparazzi (who more than once just made up lies about him, his girlfriends, and now his wife) and the monarchy as an institution. He loves his family, and wishes he didn’t need to fight with them, but the monarchy? It’s not that great. It messes with people’s lives, it’s complicit in the bad press, and it desperately needs to be updated. And maybe Harry’s the person to do it.

It really was an interesting and engaging book, and surprised me with how engrossing it was. I definitly don’t regret reading it at all. And I wish Harry and Meghan all the happiness in the world. They deserve it.

Audiobook: My Hygge Home

by Meik Wiking
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Content: It’s pretty tame. It’s in the Design section of the bookstore, but it would work in the self-help section as well.

In this one-part design book, one-part explanation of what Hygge is, and one part self-help book on happiness, Wiking gives readers a layout of how to make their home their happy place. It’s got recipes, it’s got ideas on how to better develop communities (I feel like that’s a whole book in itself), and how to make your home a cozy, homey, inviting place. More hygge.

I did get some good ideas – more plants! more light! create nooks, and remember the functionality of the rooms – but mostly I was just delighted with Wiking’s narration. He was surprisingly delightful (I wasn’t expecting dad jokes!) and, well, Hygge, as he talked about his research at the Happiness Insitute in Copenhagen. Being Danish, he knows hygge (they invented it after all), and uses the philosophy and design elements to help stave off the dark winter months up there.

It’s not life-changing, but it was enjoyable, and I’ve found myself thinking about ways I can make my life this winter more hygge. So there’s that. At any rate, it’s a delightful listen, especially on a dark, January day.

Audiobook: Beyond the Wand

by Tom Felton
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Content: There is talk of substance abuse, and swearing including a handful of f-bombs. It’s in the film section of the bookstore.

An admission: I’m not really a fan of Tom Felton’s. To be honest, while I liked the Harry Potter movies well enough, I was too old to get into being a fan of the child actors. It’s kind of creepy, at any rate. Let them be kids.

But, on the encouragement of a co-worker, I picked up Felton’s memoir on audiobook. And honestly? It’s delightful. I liked Felton’s devil-may-care attitude and the humor that he expresses looking back at the sort of kid that he was to land the role of Draco. He talks about how he ended up acting (it was a good way to skip school!) and talks fondly about his older brothers keeping his ego in check. He devotes a chapter to each of the people in the Potter films that influenced him (he has very kind things to say about Emma, Ruper, Daneil, and Jason Isaacs among others) and then goes into the past ten years after Potter. It wasn’t a great time for him. But he found his way through, and honestly, he sounds like a pretty decent man. He’s a delightful narrator (and does a spot-on American accent!) and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this one.

Audiobook: Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story

by Bono
Read by the author
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Content: There is swearing, including a few f-bombs. it’s in the Music section of the bookstore.

I was never a super huge U2 fan, but I liked them quite a bit, in the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. War, Joshua Tree, Rattle & Hum, and Actung Baby were the albums that I really liked, and listened to a lot. I never did see them live, a nagging regret I have, and one that was definintley made greater after listening to this book. At any rate, when I heard that Bono had written a memoior, I was absolutely in: I adore celebrity memoirs, he’s reading the book himself, what’s not to like? (I even snagged a signed copy at work, yay!)

And I was not wrong. Listening to this book is an experience. Not only does Bono read the book, he sings the lyrics, and they got the rights to the U2 songs to play snippets at the beginning of each chapter. There are sound effects (bells ding, crowds yell, and they put echos on his voice sometimes). The book is loosely chronological, though he does jump around telling stories as they fit in. It’s also loosely thematic, as he chooses the U2 song that best fits the theme of the chapter. He ranges through evertyhing, from the forming of U2, to his relationship wih his wife, to his work in activism, to the many different directions fthe band has gone. He’s introspective and often hard on himself – every time the ban nearly broke up, he says that it’s his fault – and often brings up his faith and doubts. It was absolutely worth the 20 hours listening to it, as I fell into a reawaking of the affection I hd for U2 as a teenager, and rediscovered so many of their songs that I rememberd loving.

If you can’t tell, I absolutely loved this one. Yes, it’s a celebrity memoir, but it’s also so much more than that. Highly, highly recommended.

Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie

by Lisa Napoli
First sentence: “On August 18, 2019, Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs Roberts, age seventy-five, did what she’d done for thousands of Sundays.”
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Content: There is some swearing, including a couple of f-bombs. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

Nominally, this is a history of how NPR became what it is today. Napoli focuses on the four women who were hired near the beginning of NPR’s tenure. Although she briefly illustrates the four women’s pasts and how they landed at NPR, the majority of the book is about the influence they had on shaping the way NPR became the influential reporting pwoerhosue that it is today.

I picked this up because I really liked Dinners with Ruth, and I was curious to know more about how NPR became NPR. It’s billed as the story of the women, but it’s really the story of NPR as a whole. There were ups and downs that I didn’t know about as NPR struggled to become relevant in the 1970s and 1980s, including a bankruptcy scare. and although the four women played a big role in it, they were not the only ones.

It was a good book, even if it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I liked learning the history of NPR, and learning what it took to get a national radio station off the ground. I was impressed, again, by the challenges women faced in the workplace in the 1970s, and the gumption that these four women had to become successful at a time when the odds were stacked against them. It’s not going to be my favorite book ever, but it was interesting and I enjoyed it.

Audiobook: Nerd

Adventures in Fandom from this Univers to the Multiverse
by Maya Phillips
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Content: There really isn’t anything that I can think of. It’s in the Film section of the bookstore.

In a series of essays, Phillis – a cultural critic for the New York Times – deconstructs her relationship with fandoms over the years. I liked her groupings – the first one is about the way New York shows up in comic books and movies, and a later one talks about Gods and the supernatural. I liked her insights, even when I disagreed (she took on Firefly, and it didn’t come out well, which I mean, sure, but leave my show alone!). It was a fascinating look at fandoms through the eyes of someone who has been a fan of things since she was young (though I didn’t get many of the anime references), and someone Black and female. It wasn’t your usual perspective on these sorts of things, and I appreciated that.

She was a good narrator of her own book, as well, and it made me feel like a friend was sitting there chatting about her thoughts on all sorts of geeky things.