Best nonfiction reads of 2018

Image: Pixabay

Holiday shopping can be stressful and books are good options, but only if you know they’re good! Here are five of my favorite nonfiction reads of 2018. Maybe one of these will be just right for your friends or family.


Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder by Claudia Kalb – Charles Darwin was a worrier, Fyodor Dostoevsky was a compulsive gambler, and Howard Hughes had OCD. Was Andy Warhol a hoarder or simply a collector? Was Albert Einstein autistic or just focused? In this excellent collection of mini biographies, Claudia Kalb looks at twelve famous personalities and explains their known or likely battles with mental illness.


David Bowie – A Life by Dylan Jones – The story of rock legend David Bowie, who hit the scene in the 1960s and for decades delivered music, art, film and stage performances through ever-changing personas. A compilation of interviews and quotes from nearly two hundred people describing Bowie’s career. It is a terrific view into a complicated and private person.


Educated – A Memoir by Tara Westover – a young woman’s fascinating memoir about being raised in isolation by survivalist parents, tolerating her father’s mental illness and a brother’s abuse, and ultimately breaking free. Westover taught herself enough math and grammar to take the SATs and go to college, first at Brigham Young University. She later studied at Cambridge University and earned her PhD at Harvard.


Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann – a true-crime account of a shameful period of American history in which members of the Osage tribe were murdered for the headrights to oil-rich land on their reservation in Oklahoma. David Grann tells this shocking story, including the investigation of the murders led by J. Edgar Hoover’s newly-formed Federal Bureau of Investigation.


Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson – Excellent memoir about being different. Through a rambling, often irreverent and always hilarious “where is this story going?” narration, with plenty of colorful vocabulary, Lawson tells you about her childhood, depression, anxiety and illness, her family, early jobs, marriage, motherhood and how she became a blogger and writer.


What are your favorite nonfiction reads of 2018?

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Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
(A Mostly True Memoir)

by
Jenny Lawson

Rating:

If you are looking for a great story about being different and making it anyway, I highly recommend Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. In some ways, it is a classic success story about perseverance, but mostly, it’s a shout-out to anyone who’s not mainstream. Because Jenny Lawson is the opposite of mainstream.

Through a rambling, often irreverent and always hilarious “where is this story going?” narration, with plenty of colorful vocabulary, Lawson tells you about her childhood, depression, anxiety and illness, her family, early jobs, marriage, motherhood and how she became a blogger and writer.

Yes, Lawson is The Bloggess, here on WordPress, and you can read her latest post here. Nielson recognizes her as one of the Top Most Powerful Mom Bloggers and Forbes ranks her on their Top 100 Websites for Women.

Lawson may likely have had the most unique childhood, ever. She and her younger sister grew up in a rural town in western Texas. Their father ran his taxidermy business out of their house, never hesitating to share his enthusiasm for his unconventional job. Wild animals were frequent visitors, including squirrels, raccoons, chickens, armadillos and pigs, and they were all part of Lawson’s quirky family.

When she was a young girl, Lawson desperately wanted to fit in at school, but she did not. In high school, she suffered from an eating disorder, tried drugs, was into Goth, and had many other anxieties. But she also had a superpower: humor. And it saved her. I laughed out loud throughout her story, not because of her struggles, but because of how she describes them. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself. She holds nothing back. She’s full of human flaws and she gives herself completely to her readers. By the end of the book, I felt like I had made a friend.

Lawson’s chapters reveal a keen understanding of the human condition and a genuine appreciation of her life and family. She writes,

I can finally see that all the terrible parts of my life, the embarrassing parts, the incidents I wanted to pretend never happened, and the things that make me ‘weird’ and ‘different,’ were actually the most important parts of my life. They were the parts that made me me.”

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was published in 2012 and is Lawson’s first book. Furiously Happy was published in 2015 and her newest book, You Are Here: An Owner’s Manual for Dangerous Minds was published in 2017.

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What’s That Book? Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds by Nick Foles

whats-that-book

TitleBelieve It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds

Author:  Nick Foles, with Joshua Cooley

Genre: Nonfiction

Rating:  3.5 stars

What’s it about? This is a first-person account of the journey that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles experienced in the 2017 season, which culminated in the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory. After entering the season as the backup, he was thrust into the starting role after the starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, tore his ACL. Foles embraced his faith in God and overcame countless odds to achieve the greatest feat in an NFL season—winning a championship.

How did you hear about it? I’m an avid member of the “Eagles Twitter” community, so I get most of my Eagles news from there. It was hard to not hear about the Super Bowl MVP’s book while following the aftermath of the championship.

Closing comments: I learned a ton about Foles in this book, including information prior to his days in the National Football League. I was glad he included these parts instead of just focusing on the 2017 season for the entire book. It was great to hear about how he was recruited in high school, his eventual transfer from Michigan State to Arizona, and even aspects of his personal life. He’s an honest and open individual, which quickly becomes clear when listening to his interviews, and luckily, this translated into an honest, humbling book. Of course, Foles is no author, so the quality of the writing (despite the help of a real author) is not going to blow anyone away. The book probably could’ve been cut by about 40 to 50 pages and still have been just as interesting, but it doesn’t drone on and on either. Personally, I found the references to his religion a little over the top at times. I am glad that Foles’s belief in God helped guide him through his experiences, but for readers who aren’t into that kind of thing, it might come off as him pushing his religion too much. I’m sure this wasn’t his intention, so I can’t criticize it too much. However, for many people who don’t have as strong religious beliefs, it can be easy to glaze over entire paragraphs because it becomes rather repetitive. Overall, though, this was a fun, easy read and gave me some great perspective into the man that’s going to be at the top of the list in Philadelphia for a long time.

Contributor:  Austin Vitelli is an assistant editor for a medical publishing company who recently graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism. He’s been a Philadelphia Eagles fan his whole life. His blog, which mostly focuses on the Eagles, can be viewed here.


whats-that-book

Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

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Educated – A Memoir by Tara Westover

Educated – A Memoir
by
Tara Westover

Rating:

Imagine growing up in isolation, with a father who regarded the government with paranoid distrust, who prepared the family for an impending apocalypse by stockpiling food, fuel and ammunition and “head for the hills” bags. Who made his children work with him in a dangerous scrap yard, where they were often severely injured.  And who manipulated them with his skewed interpretation of the Mormon faith. With a mother who only occasionally homeschooled her seven children and deferred to her husband, despite being the primary breadwinner as a midwife and natural healer. With a violent and abusive brother. Could you get out?

Tara Westover did, but at a cost. She taught herself enough math and grammar to be accepted at Brigham Young University, stumbled on her ignorance, but eventually gained her footing and began reading and learning. Her pursuits took her to Cambridge and then to Harvard, where she earned a PhD. The cost was estrangement from half her family. The half that denied there was anything wrong.

Education is Westover’s memoir, an account of these years in which she left her home in the mountains of Idaho. She tells her story of universities and degrees, but more importantly, she describes her education about family, mental illness and abuse. And then she explains what she did about it, how, inch by inch, she moved away from both her father’s and her brother’s strongholds.

Educated is a fascinating description of a life that is nearly impossible to envision. As a reader, you can’t imagine how to get into college with no schooling. Westover may not have understood the abuse and dysfunction at age sixteen, but she knew enough that she had to get out. The most absorbing part of her memoir, however, is how she began to recognize her father’s behavior as mental illness. But suspecting this didn’t change the danger of her brother’s abuse, which was both mental and physical. Most disturbing was how she reached out to her mother and sister and how they didn’t back her up.

I enjoyed reading Westover’s story, however, I would have been interested in knowing more about her college and later years, including her relationships with other students and new friends. I finished the book wondering what she’s doing right now. I think these details would give the reader a better understanding of who Tara Westover has become. It’s interesting to watch her book tour interviews and you can check out this Christiane Amanpour interview on CNN here. Westover also has a beautiful signing voice. You can listen to Tara Westover sing a Mormon hymn on PBS NewsHour here.

I recommend Educated to readers to enjoy memoirs and autobiographies and also those who like reading about overcoming adversity.

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Alone – Lost Overboard in the Indian Ocean – Brett Archibald

Alone – Lost Overboard in the Indian Ocean
Brett Archibald

Rating:  3.5 stars

In April 2013, Brett Archibald, a 50-year-old South African businessman, was on a surf charter boat off the Mentawai Islands of Indonesia. It was the middle of the night and the seas were storming. Archibald had food poisoning and went on deck to be sick. He lost his footing, fell off the boat and no one saw. He spent nearly 29 hours in the Indian Ocean before a miracle happened. That miracle was Tony “Doris” Eltherington, captain of an Australian charter, and a seafaring legend, who acted on a hunch and found Archibald bobbing in the vast expanse.

How Archibald survived, how his friends and Eltherington’s boat and crew persisted, and how his wife and family never gave up believing he would survive is chronicled in Alone – Lost Overboard in the Indian Ocean. Already weak from dehydration, Archibald fought off raging seas, a shark attack, dive-bombing seagulls, stinging jellyfish and man of wars. He kept his wits about him by counting strokes, naming books in his library and singing songs from his iPod playlists. Despite these efforts, he was often overwhelmed by hopelessness. In addition, he was fooled by hallucinations. When he looked to the sky and saw a wooden cross, he was sure it was another trick of the mind. That cross was the mast of Eltherington’s boat, coming to get him.

The book is written from three points of view:  Archibald, his friends and other rescue boats, and his wife and family. While there were some who thought it was unlikely Archibald could survive, those who knew him believed he would. An intense personality and competitor, always pushing himself, Archibald was better off than most, despite the odds against him. From the moment he was rescued he was coherent and surprisingly strong. I was skeptical of this part of the story until I watched several live videos of his rescue. To see what I mean, check out the links at the bottom of the post. The euphoria after his rescue is contagious, Archibald is ridiculously upbeat, making you believe he had all the right stuff to get him through what would have been certain death for most.

Survival stories are hard to resist and this is an incredible one. I enjoyed learning the details of his hour-by-hour story. While lost in the ocean, Archibald reflected on his life mistakes and failed relationships and faced the grim possibility that he would never see his wife and young children again. It’s no surprise that he came out of the ordeal a changed man and the phrase “life is short” doesn’t seem nearly as trite.

My one disappointment is in how the book is presented. The cover and title and Archibald’s first person account made me think he had written the book, but the account is in fact written by an unnamed author. This fact is buried in the “Three Years Later” chapter at the end of the book.

In addition, readers are well-advised to give up trying to remember the hundreds of names provided, which tends to bog down the flow of the story.

All in all, however, an engrossing read that results in a happy, feel-good moment.

Check out these video links and see for yourself:

Today Show video about Brett Archibald’s rescue

60 Minutes “Miracle at Sea”

I fell off a white water raft once and got lodged underneath. But my friends pulled me back in within a minute. Doesn’t compare, but I was pretty scared! Have you ever had a close call at sea?

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Book Talk – Alone by Brett Archibald

Image: Pixabay

Welcome to a new and occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of new books that catch my eye.

Today’s book is Alone by Brett Archibald. Published in November 2017, it’s the author’s account of his incredible survival at sea. In 2013, Archibald, age 50, was on a surf charter boat in Indonesia when he became ill and fell overboard unnoticed, without a life jacket and 60 miles from shore. Eight hours later, when his friends discovered he was missing, they began a desperate search, hoping for a miracle. His wife and children in South Africa feared the worst. And for 28 hours, Archibald, battled raging seas, aggressive sharks, biting fish, stinging jellyfish and seagulls poking at his eyes. Through resolve and strength, Archibald defied the odds. He was rescued by an Australian surfing boat and, other than being exhausted, dehydrated and sunburned, he was otherwise okay.

It’s no surprise to me that after this experience, Archibald became a motivational speaker, sharing his story and teaching perseverance!

I’m not sure when I’m going to fit this in, but I checked it out at the library just to have a look! You can too. Click here to view on Amazon and here for Goodreads reviews.

Have you experienced a life-changing event? What is your story?

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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Rating:

Being mostly a fiction reader, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy reading the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, but I was happily surprised to find Franklin’s memoir a remarkable and amusing record of time in America during the mid- to late 1700s. I also enjoyed refreshing my memory about the colonies before the American Revolution and the steps that led to independence.

But one of the most important things I learned was that Franklin was simply exploding with ideas to make life better in America. Both industrious and frugal, he knew how to succeed in many enterprises, including owning a printing shop, a newspaper, being a postmaster and establishing a library, a university, a hospital and a fire company. In addition, he had an excellent instinct for human behavior and was able to reconcile many tense discussions among both his fellow men and important leaders. He used this diplomatic skill throughout his life.

The Franklin Stove/Image: benjaminfranklinbio.com

Franklin was always thinking and had many inventions, including the Franklin Stove (still around), better street light fixtures, a system for keeping the streets clean and of course, proving the relationship between electricity and lightning with his famous kite and key experiment.

Franklin was daring and witty and was an incorrigible flirt in his later years. He wrote Poor Richard’s Almanac, a publication full of clever advice.

In addition to inventing things, Franklin loved to find ways to bring people together to support interests and causes. He formed Junto, a secret men’s discussion and debate club, he organized a volunteer defense and he helped raise money for buildings and churches.

I also learned these Franklin tidbits:

Baby Ben/Image: benjaminfranklinbio.com
  • Franklin was the youngest son of seventeen children.
  • He attended school for one year. He was a learner through and through and taught himself math and several languages. He loved to read.
  • As a young man, he had a hankering for the sea, but his father wanted to keep him on land.
  • He apprenticed with his older brother James, a printer, in Boston.

    Mrs. Ben Franklin/Image: benjaminfranklinbio.com
  • He ran away to Philadelphia at age 17 and met his future wife, Miss Read, on his first day in town.
  • He had a son out of wedlock.
  • Another son died of smallpox at age 4 and Franklin forever regretted not having him inoculated.
  • Although he did not consider himself a military man, he was commissioned to build a fort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to protect the American frontier.
  • He refused to obtain a patent for the Franklin Stove because said he only invented it to help people.

I enjoyed Franklin’s comments about the cost of a college education, a big worry for his father, “But my father, in the meantime, from a view of the expense of a college education, which having so large a family he could not well afford,” chose to establish his children in successful jobs.

Franklin also mentions a few regrets, which he calls “the great errata” of his life. One of them is, during a year-long trip to England, only writing once to Miss Read to inform her only that he’d be gone a long time. She didn’t wait and married another man. Read and Franklin finally got together later, after her husband deserted her. Another mistake was agreeing to collect money for a friend, then spending it.

Ben Franklin contributed generously to early American life. He had tremendous foresight and knew how to deal with people. I recommend this memoir to readers who are interested in history and the character behind important figures.

Want to know more? Check out these additional sources:

benjaminfranklinbio.com
fi.edu (The Franklin Institute) Benjamin Franklin FAQ
ushistory.org – The Electric Ben Franklin
Wikipedia – Benjamin Franklin

I read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin as part of my Build a Better World Summer Reading Challenge to read a memoir, biography, or autobiography.

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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air
by
Paul Kalanithi

Rating:

I have seen this book cover everywhere: on display at the library where I work, at the top of TBR lists, on Amazon, on Goodreads, and on book blogger posts. It’s a #1 New York Times Bestseller, written by Paul Kalanithi, who at the crest of a brilliant career as a neurosurgeon and scientist, was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. During the short time he had left, he was determined to live a life with personal meaning, and clung to the words of Samuel Beckett, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” What he did during the time after his diagnosis was undergo treatment, return to performing surgery, father a baby girl and begin this book. He died before he could finish, but the pages he left are full of the deep thinking that led to his medical career and the imminent facts about his illness.

You may be surprised to know that Kalanithi did not initially want to be a doctor, but he was intensely interested in the connection between the biology of human life and morality, literature and philosophy. He writes about this time,

There must be a way, I thought, that the language of life as experienced – of passion, of hunger, of love – bore some relationship, however convoluted, to the language of neurons, digestive tracts, and heartbeats.

He was an English and Biology major at Stanford, later earned a Master’s in English and MHil in history and philosophy in science and medicine from the University of Cambridge. After all that thinking, Kalanithi went to Yale School of Medicine and returned to Stanford for his residency. And a few years later, he got sick.

Although he was unable to finish his book, his desire to continue living despite being sick is clear and inspiring. And he didn’t do that by checking things off a bucket list. Instead he returned to his residency, performed surgeries, found joy in the simple moments with his family, his marriage and later with their baby daughter. And although he didn’t know what the finish would be like, when the time came, he was ready when he whispered to his wife, “This might be how it ends.”

Some people just think on a higher plane than the rest of the population and Kalanithi was one of them. I may not have gotten all his references and ideas, but I saw that he was earnest in everything he did and was driven by a need to know and understand. This memoir is more a book of philosophy, the kind you can return to for inspiration.

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How one life fits into fabric of family – A Fortunate Life by Fred H. Rohn

Family memoir about growing up during the Depression shares how circumstances and personal decisions have led to A Fortunate Life.


image0-jpgAuthor Fred H. Rohn grew up on Hurden Street in Hillside, New Jersey, a place that played a pivotal role in his upbringing.

From bike rides and street games in Hillside, to marriage and children in the town of Madison, Rohn shares his experiences of growing up during the Depression, attending college, serving in the Navy, embarking on a business career, and marrying his best friend and high school sweetheart.

Offering an important historical perspective on growing up in the twentieth century, this memoir shares what Rohn considers to be the factors of a fortunate life. Interspersed with photographs from past and present, he shows how one small life fits, as a microcosm, into the fabric of family, friends, and an ever-changing world environment.


Hey indie authors!  Are you getting ready to publish your book?  We had a great experience with Archway Publishing.  They have a terrific team of coordinators, editors, layout and design professionals, marketing experts and customer service reps.  Their website offers many helpful online resources to help you through the process.  Knowing we were in competent hands from start to finish made a big difference!


Get your copy of A Fortunate Life here!


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Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

little-house-on-the-prairie-set

Little House on the Prairie Book Series
by
Laura Ingalls Wilder

(and other titles by Roger Lea MacBride,
Melissa Wiley, 
Maria D. Wilkes and Celia Wilkins)

Rating:
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It all started when our youngest son was in second grade. “My teacher is reading us a great book,” he told me one day. “Little House in the Big Woods. Do you know that book, Mom?” I knew the book, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and, of course, the hit TV show that came after Little House on the Prairie.

So when we were looking for something to read together, he asked if we could read Little House in the Big Woods again. “You’ll like it Mom,” he told me.

little house in the big woods piclittle-house-on-the-prairie

I had the vague memory that these Little House books were more for girls than boys, but when we finished Little House in the Big Woods and then Little House on the Prairie, I remembered that there is plenty in these pages to keep a young boy interested. There are stories in every chapter about hunting and the dangers of living a frontier life. The conflicts between settlers and Native Americans are presented matter-of-factly and that makes them real. Illness and hardship, loss and set-backs occur regularly. Drought and bad weather ruin crops and threaten the family’s livelihood. Wilder also includes long descriptions of how things were made and the hard work that went into building log houses, doors, windows, sleighs and furniture.

But the stories are more than that. There is warmth and kindness in these books. As a mother, I like the family dynamic and the message it sends. The children in these books are far from spoiled and are happy with what they have. Laura Wilder’s writing style is both gentle and straightforward as she tells us what it was like for her to grow up during this time. She doesn’t sugarcoat and I like that.

When we finished the first two books, we moved on to Farmer Boy, one of my favorites. The months passed. We read a chapter each night. We watched Laura grow up. We watched her family move into town, watched Laura meet and marry Almanzo and start her own life. And then came Rose, Laura’s daughter.

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Ms. Wilder stopped writing at the end of The Laura Years, but Roger Lea MacBride, a long-time family friend, picked up with The Rose Years and continued writing in the same style as Ms. Wilder. We read about Rose and her family traveling in a covered wagon and settling in the Ozarks. We watched her grow into an independent spirit, move to New Orleans to finish high school and start a career.

Not ready to stop, we went backwards in time and read about Laura’s great-grandmother, Martha as a young girl in Scotland, written by Melissa Wiley. Wiley has also written a series about Laura’s grandmother, Charlotte and Laura’s mother, Caroline and she writes with the same pleasing style as Wilder and MacBride.

I recommend this classic series to anyone who is looking for realistic children’s books with the important themes of family, adventure, hardship and perseverance.

Check out all the Little House books!

The LAURA Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little House in the Big Woods
Little House on the Prairie
Farmer Boy
On the Banks of Plum Creek
By the Shores of Silver Lake
The Long Winter
Little Town on the Prairie
These Happy Golden Years
The First Four Years

The ROSE Years, by Roger Lea MacBride
Little House on Rocky Ridge
Little Farm in the Ozarks
In the Land of the Big Red Apple
On the Other Side of the Hill
Little Town in the Ozarks
New Dawn on Rocky Ridge
On the Banks of the Bayou
Bachelor Girl

The MARTHA Years, by Melissa Wiley
Little House in the Highlands
The Far Side of the Loch
Down to the Bonny Glen
Beyond the Heather Hills

The CHARLOTTE Years, by Melissa Wiley
Little House by Boston Bay
On Tide Mill Lane
The Road from Roxbury
Across the Puddingstone Dam

The CAROLINE Years, by Maria D. Wilkes & Celia Wilkins
Little House in Brookfield
Little Town at the Crossroads
Little Clearing in the Woods
On Top of Concord Hill
Across the Rolling River
Little City by the Lake
A Little House of Their Own

Image source:  lauraingallswilderhome.com

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