Time To Get Real, People. It’s Nonfiction November!

books

 

The great, cold weather escape can be a suspenseful mystery thriller or a hot off the press fiction book that allows you to hibernate during the cold, dark days of winter.  But we are not quite there yet.  It is still fall, and Nonfiction November is the time to learn a little something and hear the truth.  It is time to get real!  These are the nonfiction books on my night table.

Nonfiction November Picks

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is a memoir by T Kira Madden, the niece of shoe designer Steve Madden.  Coming of age in Florida, she conveys her experiences and struggles with race, sexuality and privilege.  This is a courageous debut of personal pain, trauma and beauty.  My friend, Susie Orman Schnall, author of The Subway Girls highly recommended it.

A Woman Of No Importance

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell tells the heroic story of Virginia Hall, a Special Operations Executive from Baltimore who created a spy network in France during World War ll.  This is a riveting, little known story of courage that deserves to be read!  I saw Sonia Purnell speak at the Fairfield University Bookstore and my interest was peaked.

Finding Chika

Finding Chika by Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays With Morrie, is a memoir about the Haitian orphan the author and his wife fell in love with and took to America for medical intervention.  Chika touched their hearts, redefined family and changed them forever.  Mitch Albom appeared on CBS this morning and his beautiful story brought tears to my eyes.

The Body

The Body; A Guide For Occupants by Bill Bryson, author of A Short History of Everythingexplains the wonders of the human body, both physically and neurologically, with his trademark sense of humor.  I loved Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods; I am a big fan.

Troubled Water

Troubled Water; What’s Wrong With What We Drink, by Seth Siegel, brings to light the tragedy of unsafe water.  The author highlights stories of contamination with chemicals linked to cancer, heart disease and more, and calls out heroes who have stood by change.  In Siegel’s earlier book, Let There Be Water, I learned so much about how Israel developed cutting edge technology.  With more than half the country being desert, they solved major water issues and now have an abundance of water.

For a few of my nonfiction favorites from the recent past, CLICK HERE.

What will you read this Nonfiction November?

Learn How to Navigate Change, Wrestle With Failure and Live An Intentional Life; Neil Pasricha’s You Are Awesome Provides Solid Advice and Inspiration

You Are Awesome

My Review:

Bestselling author, podcast host and TED speaker, Neil Pasricha, has charisma and positivity that emanates from the pages of his new book, You Are Awesome.

We will all experience challenges and often face failures, but if we look at them in a positive light, appreciate what we have learned and move on, continue moving forward and growing, the negative feelings won’t drag us down or hold us back.  We have the ability to consciously change our thought process, and Neil Pasricha provides us with “9 Secrets to Getting Stronger and Living an Intentional Life”.

I loves Pasricha’s thoughts on resilience and I couldn’t settle on who this book was best for, my son, my husband or my mother!  Neil hits the nail on the head when it comes to adjusting your outlook on your own life and on people and the world around you.  He puts a positive spin on what we might typically see as failure, bad news, short end of the straw.  Opportunity awaits us around every corner and behind every door.  It is just a matter of being able to see the good, be resilient, keep on going, and put yourself in the best situations to encourage success.

With smart stories and examples, we get advice on how to overcome negative feelings and how to take control of our lives. You Are Awesome is a quick and uplifting read – a great gift for everyone in your life!

 

Q & A with Neil Pasricha:

Q:  You seem to have a glass half full outlook (and a quick wit) – how much of that do you think is inherent in your personality and how much is attributed to the work you put in with what I will call “self therapy” and telling yourself a different story?

A:  A lot is self therapy! I think the wit was sharpened at a young age as a way to avoid being bullied. I was tiny, I had thick Coke bottle glasses, and I was the only brown kid in my school. The nerd preservation system kicked in! But, to your point, sure, there is a baseline. Positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubirmirsky has posited a model saying 50% of our happiness is genetic, 10% is circumstances, and 40% is intentional activities. My point is that I’m really cranking on that 40% (the self therapy bit) but … yeah, I mean, I don’t know where I am on the 50%. Likely decently high. 

Q:  You speak to large groups in person, and through your books, Ted Talks and Podcasts.  Have you ever coached individuals and have you received any feedback from people who embraced your process?

A:  Not formally, no, although after my speeches I almost always say onstage “And I’ll be the last to leave tonight!” And I mean it. Which means after the stage is packed up, and the AV team is leaving with big heavy suitcases, there are always a few people with the longest / toughest / meatiest questions lingering towards the end. Those often end up as deeper conversations. We get into it! I listen, ask questions, offer them my energy, offer them my love. 

Q:  Have you ever thought about creating ongoing seminars or workshops for people who, after reading your book, need more formal assignments and exercises to implement the ways of thinking over time?

A:  I have but I’m a big believer in following your passion. I did a lot of that kind of work at Walmart. I spent ten years there in a variety of HR roles across learning, training, leadership development, that kind of thing. It wasn’t a huge passion for me. I loved the writing, I loved the standing up and teaching, and I think I do both those things now. I have experimented with creating a couple of classes with places like Teachable and CreativeLive but it’s never quite worked. Lots of people email me asking if they can use concepts from my books in their workshops or classes and I always just reply saying “Sure, go ahead.” I value karma over copyright.

Q:  Do you keep a journal?

A:  Yes! Three of them actually:

1) I start my day with Two-Minute Mornings. (I will let go of…, I am grateful for…, I will focus on…)

2) I have a deeper wide-open longform journal that I just use to process “lumps in my stomach” or things that I’m getting stuck on. (I use this maybe 2-3x a week.)

3) I subscribe to ahhlife.com — a free online email journal that prompts me when I set it to which is Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 9pm.

Q:  In You Are Awesome, you give us 9 secrets.  How many did you start off with before you whittled it down to 9?

A: At least double that! I think the second or third draft still had about 13 or so.

Q:  You tell a story about a guy you meet on a plane who tells you a secret.  After running into him once years later, you never saw him again.  Do you ever wonder if he has read any of your books and if he will recognize himself in You Are Awesome?

A:  I’m not sure! Although I was careful to anonymize enough of the story so that it *could* be a number of people. He literally is just “the bald bearded consultant” in the book and, let’s be honest, there are probably a lot of those. (Ha). 

Q:  What books do you read for inspiration?  

A:  I love reading and rereading “On The Shortness Of Life” by Seneca. I actually buy the Penguin Classics edition in bulk and hand them out and I keep one in my suitcase to crack open whenever I land in some hotel room and feel a bit stressed. It adds tremendous perspective because it was written 2000 years ago but sounds like an email from a friend today. 

In addition to talking about how to be awesome, (Ted Talk The 3 A’s of Awesome), Neil Pasricha also speaks about happiness, (Three Secrets to Achieve Happiness) and How to Get Over Social Anxiety.

 

Goodreads Summary

Neil Pasricha

About the Author:

My name is Neil Pasricha (PASS-REACH-AH) and I’m the New York Times-blah-blah bestselling author of YOU ARE AWESOME, THE HAPPINESS EQUATION, and THE BOOK OF AWESOME series. My books have published a lot of languages I can’t read, spent eight years and over 200 weeks on bestseller lists, and sold millions of copies. I run the award-winning podcast “3 Books” (www.3books.co) which is my epic 15-year quest to uncover and discuss the 1000 most formative books in the world…. 3 books at a time. (Sample guests: David Sedaris, Judy Blume, Malcolm Gladwell, etc.)

But, anyway, it didn’t start out like this. Ten years ago my wife left me and my best friend took his own life in the span of a few weeks. I channeled my energies into writing a blog called 1000 Awesome Things to cheer myself up. (And I gave a TED Talk about it called “The 3 A’s of Awesome”)

The blog took off and won the Webby for Best Blog in the World two years in a row and scored over 50 million hits.

What was I doing during all this? Working at Walmart. I spent a decade as Director of Leadership Development there and developed a passion for managing and developing people when studying at Queen’s (2002) and Harvard (2007).

You can learn more about what I’m up to now at www.neil.blog and www.globalhappiness.org.

 

Former Publisher’s Weekly Editor, Sybil Steinberg, Recommends Books for Fall and Winter!

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Fellow Westporter, Sybil Steinberg, contributing editor and former book review section editor for Publishers Weekly, treats Westport Library patrons to a wonderful book event a few times a year.  She recommends a long list of new books, fiction and nonfiction, and gives us a short summary of each and reasons why she loves each one.  Here is her current list!

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Lisa Taddeo Takes a Deep Dive into Sex and Intimacy in Three Women.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo book cover

My Review:

A raw and honest look at women’s lives based on reports and interviews, Three Women is explicit and intense.   Author Lisa Taddeo dives deep into the sexual and emotional world of Maggie, Sloan and Lina, revealing desires and intimate details of the lives over an 8 year period.  All of the women’s stories are independent of each other and they are different in many ways, age, social class, location.  One is in an unhappy marriage and is having an affair with an old flame.  One runs a restaurant with her husband and enjoys an open marriage, yet feelings of power, control and desire are complicated.  And finally, the most upsetting for me, one was having an affair with her high school teacher when she was underage and years later she calls him out on it and brings charges against him in a court of law.

These women all have unique and different stories and represent just three of the more than 300 million people living in America, yet some things are universal.  The search for approval and acceptance, the need to be desired, and the enjoyment derived from a sense power seem to be consistent. In these relationships, decisions regarding sex and intimacy led to vulnerability and mixed emotions.

Raw, honest and somewhat shocking(to me), Lisa Taddeo lets us in on these women’s lives, sexual practices and emotions.  This book is not for everyone, but definitely generates interesting discussion amongst fellow readers.

Goodreads Summary

Author Lisa Taddeo

About the Author:

Lisa Taddeo crisscrossed the United States countless times, moved to six different places, and talked to hundreds of men and women to ultimately find three women whose lives tell the story of desire in America.

Three Women chronicles her findings through the lives of Sloane, Lina, and Maggie. The stories of these three women are not universal, but they are also not uncommon. Lina is an unhappily married woman, who leaves her husband and reignites with an old flame. Maggie is a young woman pursuing legal action against her high school teacher after their affair sours. And Sloane is a happily married restaurateur, whose husband’s desire is fueled by their open marriage.

Taddeo has given voice to unspoken activities fueled by lust and desire throughout her journalism career. She has examined, with precision, incidents by A-listers arising from lust and infidelity for New York magazine, Esquire, Elle, and Glamour.

With Three Women, Taddeo gives a voice to the girl next door, all grown up.

What Goes On Behind The Closed Doors of a Therapy Session is Revealed in Maybe You Should Talk To Someone – and Q & A With Author/Psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb

My Review:

I loved and learned so much reading Maybe You Should Talk To Someone.  Heading to therapy when life throws you a curveball may be just the thing you need to face your problems head on.  It is a process, not a quick fix, and it can be a wonderfully fulfilling relationship that develops over time. Committing each week to talk with a trained professional has the potential to allow you to feel supported and understood.

Los Angeles Psychotherapist, Lori Gottlieb provides that safe space to her own clients, and after she suffered a personal crisis, she needed that kind of support, so she sought out to find a professional to talk with. In Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, Lori shares her enlightening therapeutic experiences that helped her learn more about herself and allowed her to better help others.

“We can’t have change without loss, which is why so often people say they want change but nonetheless stay exactly the same.”  

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, gives us the privilege to observe growth and change while peeking behind the scenes of therapy sessions, with Lori Gottlieb as the therapist and also as the client.  She has a wonderful gift of writing dialog and connecting the reader to her characters through language and humor, causing me to become fully invested in everyone’s lives. I loved when she described one of her client’s crying as “not breaking down but breaking open”.  I cried for Lori’s clients: John was having marriage problems and suffered a devastating loss, and Julie was having trouble starting a family and then was facing her imminent death.  I could feel compassion through the pages and could tell how breakthroughs with patients seemed to deepen the therapist – patient relationships, increasing trust, and nourishing and feeding Lori, providing her own self awareness and validation in her field of expertise.

I loved so many things about Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, including this quote about dance therapy:

“The movement of dance allows our bodies to express our emotions in a way that words sometimes can’t. When we dance, we express our buried feelings, talking through our bodies instead of our minds – and that can help us get out of our heads and to a new level of awareness. “

It is also great to learn a new vocabulary word:

ultracrepidarianism – the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge or competence

Lori Gottlieb allows us to feel deeply and freely, laughing and crying as we take a therapeutic ride with her and people just like us, as they journey to a higher level of self awareness and understanding.  She is suffering a loss and her clients are faced with cancer, infertility, relationship problems and all the feelings that go with it.  Reading is known to make people more empathetic, and this beautiful book, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, is a perfect place to start if you want to gain insight into emotions and behaviors of our fellow humans.  I loved it and highly recommend it!

 

Goodreads Summary

Q and A with Lori Gottlieb

Q:  I imagine your job is a serious one – people come to you with problems.  In your book you also had a problem and were sad and upset and there was an overall feeling of tragedy, yet your book is full of humor and is so heart warming.  Are you known to be funny, were things funny in real time or did you add the humorous moments when you were writing?

A:  I think life is inherently comic and tragic, sometimes at the same time.  One way we manage pain is be seeing the humor in the ridiculousness of the human condition.  I mean, we’re all ridiculous at times even though our pain is very real.  So the humor was inherent to the narrative.  I didn’t need to add anything.

Q:  Do you think all that you went through has helped you become a better therapist?

A:  I think that seeing Wendell made me a better therapist.  As his patient, I got to see a therapist who brought his personality into the room, who was so unselfconscious and authentic while also holding appropriate boundaries.  In graduate school, we’re taught to be careful in many ways and sometimes that layer of training gets in the way of being human in the room, of creating a deep, rich experience that ultimately helps the patient most.  I wouldn’t be the therapist I am today had I not had that modeled for me by my own therapist.  And I think you can see some of that evolution happening in real time in the book, as I leave his office and go to my own, and make different choices in the therapy room with that day’s patients.

Q:  Your story was enlightening and gave me a lot to think about.  One thing that struck me was the fact that therapists mourn alone due to privacy issues.  Did Julie’s husband recognize you at the celebration of her life, or did you attend unnoticed?

A:  He knew who I was because I saw Julie at their house for the lat few sessions when she was too sick to come into the office.  So I met him then.  But I was very much anonymous, by design, at her funeral to protect her privacy.

Q:  You described therapy as a relationship between patient and therapist rather than one sided.  When you told Wendell he wasn’t a man (meaning you didn’t see him that way, you saw him as a therapist) did you realize that is how others may see you?  Is it difficult for you to be stripped of your feminine self and seen as a therapist rather than a woman?

A:  I’m still my feminine self in the therapy room – I/m me, in all of the ways i present in the world.  That’s the point he was making.  We’re not robots, we’re human beings.  And patients respond to us the way they respond to people in the world.

Q:  I cried so many times while reading your book: you knew exactly how to get to my emotions.  Why do you think that is the case?

A:  I think the book resonated so widely because it’s real life – not the social media version of life, but just life.  And that’s so relatable.  Readers are deeply invested in these people because they see parts of themselves in each person I write about.  They’re invested in both their hardships and their triumphs.  Readers become very attached to these patients, just as I did as their therapist.

Q:  What are you reading these days?  What do you recommend?

A:  I just read the galleys for Elizabeth Strout’s Olive, Again.  It’s a follow up to Olive Kitteridge and it’s phenomenal.  Can’t recommend it highly enough!  I just reviewed it on Goodreads.

Q:  I hear your book is going to be a drama series on TV.  Can you share any details about it?

A:  The TV version is both comedic and dramatic, like the book.  Therapists have been portrayed in all kinds of unrealistic ways on TV, so I hope this show helps to change that. It’s about a woman who happens to be a therapist, versus a show about a therapist.  And I think that distinction makes all the difference.

Follow Lori Gottlieb on social media here Facebook + Twitter + Instagram.

Lori Gottlieb - author

About the Author:

LORI GOTTLIEB is a psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author of MAYBE YOU SHOULD TALK TO SOMEONE, which is being adapted for TV with Eva Longoria. In addition to her clinical practice, she writes The Atlantic’s weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column and contributes regularly to the New York Times. She is sought-after in media such as The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, CNN, and NPR’s “Fresh Air.”

Learn more at LoriGottlieb.com or by following her @LoriGottlieb1 on Twitter.

Everything In Its Place, by the brilliant Oliver Sacks, and discussion with author/photographer Bill Hayes

Everything In Its Place

My Review:

Oliver Sacks, the bestselling author and professor of neurology wrote many books about his patients, his own disorders and nature, including the notable, Awakenings.  In his final compilation of essays, Everything In Its Place, he talked about a myriad of topics, from his love of libraries, to how cold temperatures stop the growth of cancer, from dreams and near death experiences to medical case studies and a town where everyone has Tourette’s Syndrome.  He was a true, deep thinker and scientist who studied the past.

Oliver swam every day, was severely shy and suffered from prosopagnosia (was unable to recognize faces). He was celibate for 40 years and was private regarding his sexuality.  He passed away in 2015 at 82 years old from cancer.  Everything In Its Place consists of his essays that were configured into this book and released post mortem.

Sacks lived alone, focusing on his work most of his life, but in his seventies he fell in love and enjoyed a wonderful 8 years with author and photographer, Bill Hayes.  Bill wrote the must-read memoir, Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me, along with 3 other non-fiction books, and a book of photography called How New York Breaks Your Heart.  My book club and I had the incredible opportunity to meet with Bill and we discussed his unsurpassable relationship with the brilliant neurologist and learned about their interests and the wonderful friendship and love they shared.

Oliver Sacks and Bill Hayes

Conversation with Bill Hayes:

Oliver grew up in a Jewish home and left England at 27 years old.  He lived at the hospital where Awakenings patients were being housed and he put all his efforts  into his job as a physician and neurologist.  Oliver had no romantic relationships for most of his life while he concentrated on his work.

Bill Hayes lived in San Francisco for 25 years.  He wrote a trilogy about medical history and the human body, and he studied anatomy at UCSF.  At 48 years old, in the spring of 2009, Bill moved to NYC to reinvent himself after the devastating loss of Steve, his long time partner of 17 years, passed away suddenly.  Previously, Bill had written to Oliver Sacks about one of his books, and coincidently, once in NYC, they ran into each other in the west village and they developed an intellectual and romantic kinship.

Oliver enjoyed the new found companionship with Bill, savoring the time they spent together making dinner and everyday chores like loading the dishwasher.  According to Bill, the two men had a deep connection despite their 30 year age difference.  They were kindred spirits, and both had been through a lot.  Bill says Oliver was “chronically quotable, hilarious, eccentric and philosophical”.

Oliver had prosopagnosia, and discussed it in his books, bringing this condition to the surface.  He was not able to easily recognize faces, something he deemed a “neurological hiccup”.  He studied how people adapt to different conditions including bipolar, Alzheimers, dementia, Tourette’s and autism, and wrote about them.

Bill told us Oliver mastered the art of writing.  It came easily and fluidly.  He wrote longhand with a fountain pen on yellow lined paper.  He used no technology, no wifi, and no computer.  He had two assistants in his office and they transcribed what he wrote.  He composed in his head and generally there were not a lot of revisions.

Oliver insisted Bill keep a journal and six months after he passed away, Bill felt free to write.  Using conversations he recorded in his journal, Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me, was released in 2015.  Today it is being made into a film.

Oliver published 16 books and Bill suggested we read Gratitude (4 essays about death that appeared in the NYTimes), and The Island of the Colorblind, which he described as most lyrical.

Oliver’s writing includes medical case histories,  essays on human behavior, nature, swimming, and other interests.  When compiling this collection, Bill fought hard to include the Why we Need Gardens essay in the book and it was added 6 weeks before Everything In Its Place went to press.

Bill’s memories with Oliver are joyful.  They shared so much laughter, even during his failing health in the last year of his life.  Bill says a lot had to do with Oliver; he was so clear when he learned he was terminal.  He wanted to live out his life with Bill, writing, reading, traveling and spending time with friends.  His old friend, Laura Snyder is currently in the process of writing a biography of Oliver Sacks.  She had written The Philosophical Breakfast Club, his favorite book.

Our book group was luck enough to see Oliver’s apartment via FaceTime and we asked Bill a few personal questions about himself. He told us he is currently single and dating, although the bar was set high once he met Oliver Sacks.  He also willingly shared the important significance of his five tattoos:  the end of one life and the beginning of another, I am my own anchor, a Joni Mitchell song, his five sisters and Oliver’s middle name, Wolf.

I highly recommend reading some of Oliver Sacks’ work, and Bill Hayes’ memoir, Insomniac City.  Both men are fascinating and a wealth of knowledge, compassion and creativity.

 

Goodreads Summary

Oliver Sacks

About the author:

Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE, was a British neurologist residing in the United States, who has written popular books about his patients, the most famous of which is Awakenings, which was adapted into a film of the same name starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

Hear from CEO Bobby Herrera Why You Should Go Off the Beaten Path in The Gift of Struggle: Life-Changing Lessons About Leading

Book Cover of The Gift of Struggle by Bobby Herrera

My Review:

CEO of Populus Group, Bobby Herrera has had his struggles.  Growing up in a Mexican migrant worker family, he was not unfamiliar with long hours and difficult times. In school for six months of the year and then traveling to work in the fields to provide food for the people in this country for the next six months, without getting the recognition, Bobby felt socially invisible.  Unable to spend money like the other kids, Bobby and his brother did their best to fit in but knew they were different.  Once he was in the army at 18, fulfilling his father’s lifelong dream, he realized how his difficult lifestyle had prepared him for military training.  Looking back at his upbringing he felt great appreciation for his parents and all they did for him, and he understood that struggle gave him a gift.

Through charming personal anecdotes, Bobby talks about his ongoing leadership journey and the lessons he has learned.  From exploring his own identity, to being aware of how much to give and take with colleagues, bosses and underlings, to choosing where and how he wanted to make an impact, Bobby tells his stories and encourages us to think about our own leadership styles.  Each chapter ends with Questions to Guide Your Journey, allowing you to think about how you respond to different situations and how you might be able to change your thinking and behavior, and venture off the beaten path to improve outcomes.

This is an easy to read, engaging, and thought provoking little book, great for anyone in a leadership position. Whether you are the CEO, middle management, a parent, or recently entering the workforce, there are lessons to be learned and Bobby Herrera can help guide you on your journey.  For me, as a reader, one of the best things he says is “the best leaders are always learning” and “books are the greatest resource I can recommend to you”.  Bobby has a special shelf he calls “Bible Row” where he keeps his books that guide him, revisiting them often.  They make him ask better and bigger questions and make him think.  I believe The Gift of Struggle:  Life Changing Lessons About Leading deserves a place on everyone’s shelf.  How we look at who we are and where we came from, no matter where that might be, can impact how we are treated, how we choose to treat others, and our level of success.  I enjoyed this one.

The Gift of Struggle is for everyone, and it makes a great father’s day gift!

Goodreads Summary

Author of The Gift of Struggle, Bobby Herrera and Jennifer Blankfein

I had the pleasure of meeting the inspirational Bobby Herrera at Book Expo.

Learn more about Bobby Herrera here.

4 Benefits of Reading… This Is What I Know.

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Reading helps us to examine our world in new ways.  It provides us with opportunities to become more educated on an infinite number of topics and allows us to look at issues ways we may never have before.  Reading gives us insight into relationships and helps us understand people, teaches us empathy, and presents opportunities to ask questions.

quote about reading

Here are 4 benefits of reading, and 30 book suggestions for you to enjoy!

1.  LEARN ABOUT INTERESTING TOPICS

Exploring places around the world and going back in time through reading gives us access to infinite knowledge.

Different Aspects of World War II

At The Wolf's Table

Women were chosen to be food tasters for Hitler in At The Wolf’s Table by Rosella Postorino.

Challenges of Assimilation

A Place for Us

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza explores a Muslim Indian American family and their religion and traditions.

Performance Art at MOMA

The Museum of Modern Love

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose is a fiction story centered around Marina Abramović and her performance art exhibit in 2010.

South Africa and Apartheid

Hum if You Don't Know the Words If You Want to Make God Laugh

Hum If You Don’t Know the Words and If You Want to Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais tells stories of women and family brought together through tragedies.

Rwandan Massacre

The Girl Who Smiled Beads

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya is a memoir about a girl who survived the genocide in Rwanda and the aftermath.

Death Row and Prison Life

The Last SuppersThe Sun Does Shine

The Last Suppers by Mandy Mikulencak and The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton give a dismal picture of what goes on behind bars and the strength needed to overcome.

The Korean War

PachinkoIf You Leave Me

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim teach us about the lives of Korean refugees.

AIDS in the 1980s and 90s

The Great BelieversNow Everyone Will Know

The AIDS crisis devastated so many and deeply impacted families in the  The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai and Now Everyone Will Know by Maggie Kneip.

Famous People

LittleWhite HousesSong of a Captive Bird

Little by Edward Carey is a story based on the imagined life of Madame Tussaud, Eleanor Roosevelt and her unconventional relationship is depicted in White Houses by Amy Bloom, and the life of the strong female poet, Forugh Farrokhzad is revealed in Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik.

Strong Women That Were Wronged

Lilac GirlsRadium Girls

These are devastating stories of women in the past who were not protected by the government, like the rabbits in The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly,  and the factory workers in The Radium Girls by Kate Moore.

Grand Central Terminal History

The Masterpiece

Fictitious stories about the actual art school located above Grand Central Terminal are depicted in The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis.

2.  EXAMINE COMPLEX RELATIONSHIPS

Reading can provide different prospectives, helping us see a story from all sides.

AsymmetryThe Only Story

Loosely based on the author and Philip Roth, we read about a young girl in a relationship with an older male in Asymmetry  by Lisa Halliday. 

A look back on the memories of the narrator’s first love, there is a young male in a relationship with an older female in The Only Story by Julian Barnes.

The Sunshine SistersThe Husband Hour

Complex mother, daughter and sister relationships play out in Jane Green’s The Sunshine Sisters and Jamie Brenner’s The Husband Hour .

3. LEARN TO EMPATHIZE

People are always saying reading encourages empathy and it is really true…When you are reading you are made more aware of other people’s feelings and given the opportunity to understand people that are different.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineThe Extraordinary Life of Sam HellA Boy Made of BlocksWe Loe Anderson Cooper

Eleanor Oliphant by Gail HoneymanThe Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Bob Dugoni and A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart are about those that just don’t fit in; similar to the characters in the short story collection We Love Anderson Cooper by R.L. Maizes.

4. EXPLORE THE UNKNOWN

Some books provide opportunities to ask ourselves WHAT IF? 

The CircleReady Player OneThe FarmVox

The Circle by Dave Eggers examines the power of social media.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline shows the future of video games.

The Farm by Joanne Ramos explores surrogate farms.  

Vox by Christina Dalcher takes a dystopian look at government control.

globe and people

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An Engaging Memoir of Powerful Reflections on Family, Life and Personal Growth from the South Side of Chicago to the White House in Becoming by Michelle Obama

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My Review:

Becoming is an engaging memoir from a tall, bright, black girl from Chicago who grew up in a traditional home with loving family and the opportunity for education. Where her life led is remarkable and Michelle Obama tells us about her youth, her relationship, marriage and daughters along with her thoughts and opinions about being a black woman, wife and mother in the White House. As the First Lady, she had worthwhile major initiatives surrounding children’s health, military families and education and she provides readers with an insider’s look and insight into her time in Washington DC.

Becoming is not just about becoming FLOTUS, it is about Michelle Obama’s personal growth based on choices she made and ones that were made for her due to circumstances – choices about her career, whether or not she got married and had children and how she created and honored her family values, made an impact on people and participated in causes she cared about, utilizing her new found power and visibility to help the people in our country become healthier, more ambitious and hopeful.  She wasn’t just the president’s wife; Michelle Obama was a refreshing force with strong morals and an effective agenda for positive change in the White House, while providing stability for her children and husband as he took on the biggest job in our country.

One of Michelle Obama’s major initiatives while in the White House was the Let’s Move campaign with the goal to reduce childhood obesity and encourage a healthier lifestyle.  She worked with her Executive Director, Sam Kass, who at the time was President Obama’s Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition, and together they created the first major vegetable garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden.

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In 2018 Sam Kass came to my local library (Westport Library) to talk about his time in the White House, eating healthy and to promote his cookbook, Eat A Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World.

A role model for women and girls, Michelle Obama took on the job of First Lady and conducted herself in the public eye with grace and effectiveness and deserves admiration and accolades.  I highly recommend this book, regardless of your politics, as it gives you a unique understanding of the Obama family, the challenges members of the black community and all women face, and the endless possibilities for making positive change in your immediate world and the world at large.  I loved it and hear the audio version is fantastic!

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is the wife of the forty-fourth President of the United States, Barack Obama, and is the first African-American First Lady of the United States.

She was born and grew up on the South Side of Chicago and graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. After completing her formal education, she returned to Chicago and accepted a position with the law firm Sidley Austin, and subsequently worked as part of the staff of Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, and for the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Michelle Obama is the sister of Craig Robinson, men’s basketball coach at Oregon State University. She met Barack Obama when he joined Sidley Austin. After his election to the U.S. Senate, the Obama family continued to live on Chicago’s South Side, choosing to remain there rather than moving to Washington, D.C.