Best Friends

by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Real Friends
Content: There’s some uncomfortable parts with anxiety, and a bit of “romance” with boys and girls. It’s in the middle grade graphic graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Picking up where Real Friends left off, with the summer before Shannon’s sixth grade year. She’s convinced that she’s going to have a great year: they’re the oldest kids in school, she’s best friends with the most popular girl in school, and maybe she’s got it all figured out. Except, she doesn’t, not really. Friendship — especially in sixth grade in the 1980s — is a minefield. And being popular has costs.

Much like Real Friends, this one is full of heart and humor and insight. My poor sixth grade self, awkward and not knowing how on earth to fit in, completely empathized with Shannon’s plight. And it was nice that she used excerpts (polished up, of course) from a novel she wrote in sixth grade. It made for a nice balance to the drama of the contemporary story. Pham’s art, of course, was perfect for the story, especially when dealing with Shannon’s anxiety. It’s a perfect compliment for Real Friends, and a wonderful exploration of what real friendship means.

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Audiobook: Naturally Tan

by Tan France
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It’s sweary, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I’ve said this before: one of my truly guilty pleasures is reading celebrity memoirs. I’ve enjoyed learning their stories for years, but I especially love them in audio, particularly when the author reads the book. I am a collector of stories, and I feel it’s like we’re sitting in a room and they’re just telling me a bit about themselves. It humanizes them, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

And so, of course, since I love Queer Eye and I love celebrity memoirs, I was kind of destined to love this. It’s not perfect: you can tell that Tan is not really a writer, though he’s super smart, and after a while I did get tired of his use of “but,”. Even so, I did enjoy the book. I found out things about Tan that were super fascinating (and fun: he ADORES Salt Lake City and the members of the church, which I found charming) and I enjoyed the peek into how he got the Queer Eye job and what it’s been like filming the show.

The bonus material on the audio was worth it, too: Tan got Antoni to come and they had about a 10 minute conversation about the show, their friendship, and writing a memoir. Definitely added to my enjoyment of the book!

So, no, not perfect, but a lot of fun.

Kitchen Confidential

by Anthony Bourdain
First sentence: “Don’t get me wrong: I love the restaurant business.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of talk about drug use and a lot of swearing (including many, many f-bombs. Kitchens are not “clean” places to work.) It’s in the Creative Non-Fiction section of the bookstore.

This is one of those books that I’ve said to myself many times over the years (it was first published in 2000) that I need to read it. I like food books. I like books about restaurants and I have heard nothing but good things about this one. Why haven’t I read it before?

Good question. And I’m glad I fixed it. And for the record: I read the original hardcover (because that’s what the library had) and not the updated paperback.

This is, essentially, Bourdain’s personal story of how he became a chef in New York. It’s not a pretty story. He wasn’t a nice guy. But, he worked hard, and he was a reliable employee, and so he climbed the ladder. And, after he went to the Culinary Institute of the Arts, he moved to New York and began making a name for himself. It was an up and down process, the downs fueled mostly by his drug use, but eventually, he landed a decent stable chef position. He talked about the people he met, and all the jobs he worked, and the dynamics of the (mostly male) kitchen. It’s crass and vulgar and foul, but I loved reading his stories. It made me slightly nostalgic for the time I worked in a restaurant kitchen (worked my way up from dishwasher to prep cook), because there really is a family dynamic to working in a kitchen. I was glad I didn’t pursue it as a career, though, because I don’t think I had the stamina it takes to actually make it in the business.

But this was a fun trip through the New York City restaurant world of the 1970s and 1980s and I really enjoyed Bordain’s version of it.

Audiobook: Save Me the Plums

by Ruth Reichl
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I adore Ruth Reichl and have since I read Tender at the Bone a very long time ago. (While I was listening to this, I was wondering if I knew who she was before she became the editor in chief of Gourmet, or after. I’m still not quite sure.) She has a way with telling a story (granted: I have not read her work of fiction) and with writing about food. And this book — the memoir of her time as Gourmet editor in chief from 1999-2009, when the magazine folded — is no exception.

Reichl weaves the story of how she became the editor in chief and her experiences with Condé Nast with memories of growing up and her family, both her parents and her husband and son. She tells stories of how stories came to be, of working with editors and art directors and photographers and chefs. As someone who once studied journalism and who has an affection for the profession, I adored this. I loved seeing the inner workings of a magazine (and was wistful: in another universe, I am a food and travel writer, I think) and I thoroughly enjoyed the way she talks about food.

I know some of my co-workers haven’t enjoyed this as much as they liked her other books, but I disagree: this is quintessential Ruth Reichl, talking about what she knows best: food and community.

I especially loved it on audio: she is a fantastic narrator, and knows how to make you feel like you’re sitting with her as she spins these tales. I absolutely loved it and am very sad that it’s done.

The Circuit

by Francisco Jimenez
First sentence: “‘La frontera’ is a word I often heard when I was a child living in El Rancho Blanco, a small village nestled on barren, dry hills several miles north of Guadalajara, Mexico.”
It’s out of print, unfortunately. I found a copy at the library.
Content: It’s a series of short chapters, fictional but with an autobiographic feel. It’s in the teen section at the library, but I really can’t figure out why.

This is basically the fictionalized autobiography of Jimenez. He doesn’t bother to change the names of his family (maybe of the other characters?) or even of the situations he finds himself in over the time that his family — he’s the second of seven children — spent as migrant workers in California. This book covers the time they entered the United States (his father had a green card; his mother, older brother, and he were all undocumented. His younger siblings were all born in the United States) through the time when, in high school, his older brother was picked up by ICE. (Though he doesn’t go into what happened after. Just that he was picked up.)

Jimenez does an amazing job making the migrant worker’s life come to life on the page: the back-breaking labor, the constant moving to follow the work. Not just for his parents — there was a scene when his father was sitting in their meager tent, smoking cigarette after cigarette, cursing the rain that wouldn’t stop and that was ruining the crops and therefore their livelihood that really brought it home to me — but also for the children, how they couldn’t start school until after the cotton crop in November, how they moved often so he went to multiple schools in the course of one school year.

It makes one think about where one’s food come from. Who is out there picking the crops, and what kind of conditions they live in. And yes, it made me think about immigration — this story took place beginning in the 1940s — and the way they are treated, not just by the government but also by business owners. It’s not an easy thing, politically, but I think we often forget that there are people on the other end.

At any rate, it was a fascinating little book.

Audio book: My Life as a Goddess

by Guy Branum
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it at Libro.fm
Content: There was a bunch of swearing, including many f-bombs, and frank talk about sex. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

I have, in fact, mentioned my weakness for celebrity memoirs, especially if I can listen to it on audio. They just hit my happy button. And I’ve just found out that I enjoy them, even if I don’t know who the celebrity is! (As in this case.) I found out about thins one through Pop Culture Happy Hour when it was recommended by my favorite crank, Glen Wheldon. (Who actually has a reference in this book…) Anyway. This is basically Guy’s story about how he went from the boring farm town in the Sacramento Valley (I really enjoyed his diversions about agriculture!) to being a stand-up comic and a comedy writer. It was quite hilarious, but also introspective and touching. I think one of the things I like best about these kind of books is hearing someone else’s story, learning how they got to where they are today. Branum didn’t have an easy life; he was often ostracized as a child (not to mention his sister, who was really only alluded to) and his parents — especially his father — cut him off when he came out. He made a wrong turn going to law school, and I liked knowing that other people make wrong turns and turn out okay. I also thought his rant about the cultural biases against clubs (I may never listen to Shape of You by Ed Sheeran the same way again. Or Bohemian Rhapsody).

I loved every moment listening to Guy tell his story (the best bits where when he cracked himself up). A delightful book.

Shout

by Laurie Halse Anderson
First sentence: “this book smells like me”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is talk about rape and sexual abuse, and swear words, including f-bombs. It’ll be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I didn’t think
about where Speak
came from, though I have read that
several times
and respect it.

So when I learned that it
was inspired by Anderson’s story
I was shook
and also inspired;
she had a tough childhood,
but worked out a path
and made a successful
life.

But what really got me
about this book —
what made me angry —
was all the stories she heard
in response to the book
both from girls who read it
and can now speak their truth,
and from adults,
who want to keep kids from that truth.

In the end,
what will stay with me
is the beauty of the words
as well as the
power
of the story.