Audiobook: Dinners with Ruth

by Nina Totenbrg
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some mild swearing including one f-bomb. It’s in the Biography section of the bookstore.

The book’s subtitle is “A Memoir on the Power of Friendships, ” which really sums up the book. Nina (I can call her Nina from having listened to her on NPR for decades, yes?) reflects not only on the close friendship she had with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg but on the friendships that have gotten her through her life. She spends a lot of time not just reflecting on having friends, and how it’s possible to be friends with people you disagree with (which is something we’re losing I think, as a society), but also on how those friendships have enriched her life. It ranges from supreme court justices to her colleagues at NPR to her family and the friends that introduced her to both of her husbands.

I really recommend getting this one on audio. Totenberg is a radio journalist, which means she knows how to tell a story. And she is delightful here. From her small chuckles when she reads something funny to the emotion in her voice when she talks about RBG’s death. It’s truly delightful to listen to.

Very highly recommended.

This is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch

by Tabitha Carvan
First sentence: “What are you thinking about?”
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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 Chloé 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.

Friends Forever

by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
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Others in the series: Real Friends, Best Friends
Content: There is talk of crushes and “going together” and mental illness. It’s in the middle-grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

It’s eighth grade, and Shannon finally feels like things are going to go Her Way. She’s basically found her people in the drama club and thinks she understands how to navigate middle school. Except, she doesn’t feel beautiful, compared to her best friend, Jenn. There are friendship ups and downs. Her classmates keep asking whether she and her other best friend, Andrei, are “going together”. It’s hard when everything everyone says sticks in her brain, rumbling around, making her question her worth. (I get that.) Is she “good enough”? Can she even be good enough? Will anyone really gruly get and like her?

This is such a smart book: Hale and Pham get not just the mid-1908s (it’s the 1987-1988 school year), but the inherent angst of being 13/14. There are good moments, ones where Hale captures the silliness of young teenagers, but also ones that she uses as teaching moments, like the time she was assaulted by a mall Santa. She is open about her mental illnesses, and the mistakes she made (and her parents made) as a teenager — most telling was the way he “threw” her appointment with a therapist. It was the 1982s; therapy was only for “bad” people, and she didn’t want to be seen that way. It does have a hopeful ending, though. And Pham’s art captures everything perfectly.

I am going to miss this series, but I can’t wait to see what Hale and Pham do next.

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.

Audio book: Fox and I

by Catherine Raven
Read by Stacey Glemboski
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Or listen on Libro.fm
Content: There’s some intense moments. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

Catherine is a biologist by education, but mostly she’s a naturalist: she enjoys being in nature, having worked as a park ranger and currently lives mostly off the grid outside of Yellowstone National Park in Montana. The book is basically a memoir of her life, but more its more than that: it’s a reflection on our relationship with nature, and whether or not it’s “appropriate” to befriend a wild animal. In her case, a wild fox.

This is an odd book, reminding me very strongly of Lab Girl. Raven struggles with her feelings of friendship towards something that “supposed to” be an object of her study. It’s most interesting when she”s analyzing literature — most notably Frankenstein, Moby Dick, and The Little Prince — or maybe that’s what I found most interesting. Even with it’s oddness, I found the story compelling possibly because the narrator is really good. She kept the book interesting and entertaining in spite of its oddness.

Not my most favorite book this year, but an interesting one.

Seed to Dust

by Marc Hamer
First sentence: “The swifts have left the bell tower and are on their way to Africa.”
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Content: There are three f-bombs scattered throughout, and some mention of abuse. It’s in the gardening section of the bookstore.

For lack of a better description: this book is a lovely homage to gardening and being a part of the earth. Following the months of the year, Hamer talks about his work as a gardener for a country estate in the west of Wales, for a “Miss Cashmere”, an elderly lady he has been tending the gardens for many years. Each small essay is a thought about plants, life, the connection we have to the earth, the weather, literature and poetry… Hamer’s writing is a gift. Both practical — I learned things about gardening! I will probably change a few things I do, like pruning back and cleaning up in the fall, instead leaving it until spring– and lyrical — I loved the way he talked about watching the sun rise, and the changing of the seasons, and how autumn is a season of sadness. He also reflects on his life — it wasn’t easy, with an abusive father and being unhoused for several years — and marriage — I loved his descriptions of his wife.

It’s one of those books you can dip in and out of; it doesn’t really have a narrative the pulls you through, but I think that’s okay. It’s a a meditation of sorts on the joys and sorrows of being alive, and it left me a bit teary in the end. I’m so very glad I read this one.

Why Peacocks?

by Sean Flynn
First sentence: “The reason to have a peacock, I would have thought, is self-evident.”
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Release date: May 11, 2021
Content: There is some talk of violence, animal death, and mild swearing (with about four instances of f-bombs). It will be in the Creative Nonfiction section of the bookstore.

Why have peacocks? That’s the question that Flynn ends up asking when — kind of unexpectedly — he and his family ends up with three peafowl (two cocks and a hen). This book is the exploration of his experiences owning peafowl, the good, the bad, and the fascinating. There’s a bit of history, of how peafowl ended up here in the states, a bit about the learning curve for taking care of the animals, and a bit about the breeding and obsessions with them (both positive and negative).

It’s a delightful little book. Nothing deep or life-changing, but it’s a lot of fun. Flynn’s a good writer — he usually writes about death and disasters, so the birds are a welcome distraction from all that — and balances memoir with history and animal nonsense quite well. I enjoyed spending time with Flynn and his birds, and hearing the stories about them.

It’s a fun read.