Sep 17, 2014

In this memoir, Will Schwalbe looks back on the last years with his mother, Mary Anne. When Mary Anne is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Will and his mother use books as a meaningful way to connect with each other and talk about life and death and everything in-between. Will, a former publisher, and Mary Anne, a life-long reader, look at a variety of literature for their book club. The club is informally held in waiting rooms and during Mary Anne's treatments. Though the subject matter is heavy as it deals with dying and death, I felt that this book was a lovely tribute and a beautiful way

The Faraway Nearby

By Rebecca Solnit
Rated by Chris K.
Dec 1, 2017

This evocative collection of meditations emerged from a time of crisis in Solnit's life, and centers on her mother's descent into Alzheimer's and her own diagnosis of and treatment for potential cancer. Solnit's writing is fluid and meandering, flowing lyrically from thought to thought, topic to topic. Themes recur frequently and range widely: life in the arctic, decaying apricots, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Che Guevara, leprosy, The Arabian Nights, Buddhism, ice, mirrors, breath, wounds, knots, and more. Central to the entire enterprise is consideration of the nature and purpose of stories

Dec 29, 2015

Reading Brianna Karp’s memoir of losing her job, home, and family reminded me in many ways of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Except instead of embarking on a months-long solo hike, as Strayed did, Karp faces the challenges of living in a trailer in a Walmart parking lot. With no water or electricity. Frustration at Brianna’s “unwise” choices (surrounding her involvement with a fellow homeless gent) is always followed by a heart-wrenching family story that would have left me a gelatinous blob.

Most compelling are Karp’s explorations of her own potential racism, degree of homelessness, family history

Nov 6, 2014

Imagine, at the age of 30, discovering you're not typical — or rather, not neurotypical. What could have been a scary diagnosis turned out to be very empowering for David Finch. His personal story of coping with Asperger Syndrome and saving his marriage paints a picture of hard-earned possibility. Finch may be at the milder end of the Asperger/autism spectrum, but for a neurotypical like myself, I learned a lot about the life of someone whose brain works very differently from my own. At the same time, I also saw aspects of myself in his behaviors, a reminder that common ground can still be

Apr 5, 2019

"Never underestimate the power of nerds."  Self proclaimed nerd Mallory O'Meara pours her heart and three years of her life into The Lady From The Black Lagoon,  a biography to uncover the lost legacy of Milicent Patrick.  

Sadly, but not surprisingly, I was unfamiliar with Milicent Patrick and her work.  I knew nothing of her time at Disney as an animator or her work at Universal Studios making monsters come to life for the big screen.  In reading this book I was struck by how hard it must have been to work in a male dominated field in which no matter how talented you are most of your male

The Long Walk

By Brian Castner
Rated by Margaret O.
Sep 14, 2016

“To those trained in Explosive Ordinance Disposal, the last-resort tactic for defusing bombs is known as the Long Walk: a soldier dealing with the device up close, alone, with no margin for error.” Brian Castner served three tours of duty in the Middle East, two of them as the commander of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit in Iraq where he earned a Bronze Star. He speaks with candor about the excruciating trauma of war, the daily battles against a constant and unknown hidden danger, the likelihood of death around every corner, and finally his return home to his wife and family. Diagnosed

The Punk Singer

By Kathleen Hanna
Rated by Scott S.
Aug 20, 2014

There are times when I hesitate giving any work (an album, movie, or book) "5 stars." In fact, I try really hard not to do it. The idea that a work is "Perfect" and therefore deserving an entire constellation seems somewhat counter-productive to critical thinking and writing about whatever work a person has experienced: Does the White Album REALLY need all of those songs? Did Han Solo REALLY have to live? Objective correlative, indeed!

That being said, it's pretty difficult to NOT award The Punk Singer five stars and some kind of glowing effusive praise. The troubling thing is, I'm not sure

The Reason I Jump

By Naoki Higashida
Rated by Bethany T.
Apr 28, 2014

Naoki Higashida is a thirteen-year-old boy with autism so severe that he cannot speak aloud.  But using an alphabet grid, he--letter by letter--has composed this missive from the depths of autism, revealing that a clever mind and keen perception lie behind the limits of his disorder.  Higashida approaches the topic through a series of questions, like "What's the worst thing about having autism?" and "Is it true that you hate being touched?"  His answers are illuminating and occasionally heart-breaking, like this one: "The hardest ordeal for us is the idea that we are causing grief for other

The Sound of Gravel

By Ruth Wariner
Rated by Catherine G.
Mar 3, 2017

This book was extremely hard to read, but also hard to put down.

The Sound of Gravel is the memoir of Ruth Wariner, a woman who spent the first fifteen years of her life in hell. Ruth was born into a poverty stricken, fundamentalist Mormon colony in rural Mexico in the 70s. Her father, who was killed when she was a baby, had 42 children. Ruth grew up with her mom, nine siblings, and step-father. They lived in a tiny house with a dirt floor and no indoor plumbing or electricity. Mouse droppings on the kitchen floor and wind blowing through the mud walls of the house were the norm.


The Sound of Gravel

By Ruth Wariner
Rated by Caitlin T.
Jan 31, 2017

The Sound of Gravel is the true story of Ruth Wariner, a young girl growing up as a Mormon fundamentalist in the 80’s, traveling between Mexico and the United States with her ever expanding family. After Ruthie’s father is killed by his own brother when, her mother remarries, becoming the second wife to a practicing polygamist. Ruthie spends the majority of her youth living on a Mexican commune in a house without plumbing or electricity, sharing a bed with her mother and siblings, and living off government checks that her mother receives by falsely claiming US residency. She passes her time

The Waiting

By Cathy LaGrow
Rated by Colleen O.
Jul 9, 2014

In 1928, sixteen-year-old Minka has to make a decision that will affect her life forever: to give up her newborn daughter Betty Jane for adoption. At a sewing class picnic, Minka was assaulted in the woods by a stranger and becomes pregnant. The family has no way to support the baby, so against her strongest desires, she chooses a better life for Betty Jane. But she can't ever forget her little girl, and for twenty years she writes the adoption home trying to find information about her precioius daughter. At every point in her life, she thinks about how old her daughter would be and what she

Tiny Beautiful Things

By Cheryl Strayed
Rated by Melody B.K.
Sep 19, 2013

I dare you to read this collection of Strayed's advice columns and not be moved. I also found it odd that critics found her personal stories narcissistic and meandering. Au Contraire Mon Frere - her stories reveal her brokenness, her unworthiness, her poor judgment and the tragic acts she's endured at the hands of others. She has walked through the fire and she is still standing strong.

Sep 24, 2014

Ever since she was little, Liz preferred jeans to dresses, action figures to dolls, and sports to dress-up. Adults and other kids told her this made her a tomboy. Seeing the way the mass media marketed to girls and told them how they should look and behave, Liz was fine with not falling into the “girly” category. But the tomboy label wasn’t easy to fit into either. Eschewed by girls who didn’t understand her jeans and baseball caps, and belittled by boys who didn’t want to play with a “girl” (especially in front of other boys), Liz had trouble finding her place. Navigating the rocky shoals of

Sep 11, 2017

It's 1845 Haworth, West Yorkshire, England. This historical depiction shows a very bleak and distressing side to the famous Bronte sisters lives. Back when there were very few opportunities for women, it tells of the hardships Charlotte, Emily and Anne faced. It also includes the downfall of their brother Patrick, who they all called by his middle name Bramwell.  His was a tortured soul that could not live up to his own expectations and took it out on his father.

To Walk Invisible created a desire for further research.

May 21, 2018

Louis Zamperini was an army air forces bomber during World War II. And before that, he was an Olympic sprinter. But now he is a captive of the Japanese forces. His plane crashed and he survived thousands of miles in the open ocean with little to no water or food. His raft eventually washed up near a Japanese base and he was sent to a POW camp. This book tells the incredible story of his survival against all odds and about the amazing life he led.

This book is inspiring to everyone who reads it. It teaches you to be grateful for everything you have. I love that it tells the story of his

Warrior Pose: a War Correspondent's Memoir

By Brad Willis AKA Bhava Ram
Rated by Helen H.
Nov 25, 2016

At 360 pages, with no recollection of when or why I requested it, I lugged Warrior Pose home thinking I would skim a little bit and move on to something a little less daunting. That didn’t happen. The story is engaging and despite many opportunities for editing, I forgave Willis and read the book cover to cover.

The first two thirds tells of Willis’ experience as a war correspondent. Both how he got into the business, and how he worked while hiding a very serious back injury in order to continue covering international stories. In my younger years, I was never one to follow news closely and

Oct 9, 2016

Through a series of short essays, Thomas lovingly paints a picture of her best friend Chuck, a heartbreaking portrait of her daughter’s cancer, eloquently wrangles her addictions, and throws in all the other stuff that makes a life a life. Somehow she makes the whole mess look beautiful.

Each page can be read independently, and I’ve revisited certain sections. For example, in “Painting, Not Writing,” Thomas says, “instead of not-writing, I am painting. I’m not a painter, but I make paintings anyway.” While this perfect little sample is representative of what you’ll find in What Comes Next

When Breath Becomes Air

By Paul Kalanithi
Rated by Colleen O.
Apr 12, 2016

How do I begin discussing this book? It’s breathtaking, painful, haunting, and beautiful all at the same time. Paul Kalanithi attended Stanford and Yale to become a doctor trained in neurological surgery and neuroscience, all in the hopes of gaining an understanding of death, and choosing a much more difficult path to be able to treat the dying. As he’s just beginning his career and getting incredible job offers throughout the country, he is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at thirty-six years of age. He then begins to process death in a much more personal way, switching from a lifesaving

White Girls

By Hilton Als
Rated by Melody B.K.
Jan 2, 2014

Hilton Als' essays about gender identity, race awareness, African-American gay men and masculinity will give readers severe whiplash.  He does indeed discuss several white girls, Flannery O'Connor for one, but then he also explores the white-girlness of Truman Capote, Michael Jackson and Eminem.  The chapter on Richard Pryor is my absolute favorite and is followed by a confusing and bizarre fictional rumination about Richard Pryor's sister.   Don't try to find a rhyme or reason to White Girls, just enjoy.

Jul 8, 2020

I say "graphic books" because not all are novels, and the ones I am most often drawn to are the graphic nonfiction--bios, memoirs, history lessons. I am not an expert on graphic books; I do not have boxes of comic collections accumulated since childhood (though I do fondly remember reading some of my older brother's X-Men comics as a kid--intrigued by smart, strong females like Storm, Jubilee, Rogue); but perhaps because I approach graphic books from a more literary view, I can translate their value to those who might otherwise relegate "comics" to their not-to-be-read shelf.


By Strayed, Cheryl
Rated by Anonymous (not verified)
Oct 7, 2013

This is a true account of an impulsive twenty-something woman who chooses to hike the grueling Pacific Coast Trail as a way to stop herself from self-destruction.  She has not had an easy life, being raised by a single mother in poverty, but she is in college and in love when her mother succumbs to cancer. Thus starts a spiral of addiction and out of control behavior that is shocking and life threatening. After spotting a book on hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, Cheryl decides to do it even though it is one of the most difficult trails possible and she has no experience, improper boots, and a

Wild Tales: a Rock & Roll Life

By Graham Nash
Rated by Vincent S.
Apr 14, 2014

Graham Nash’s autobiography captures the inner workings of three significant bands of the Sixties and Seventies: The Hollies; Crosby, Stills, & Nash; and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. It’s well worth the read.

Musical harmony was a trademark of the three groups. Nash may have named his first group after Buddy Holly, but his major influence came from the distinctive harmonies of the Everly Brothers, a 1950s and early Sixties Nashville duo that is mentioned several times in the course of the book. Crosby, Stills, and Nash astonished themselves when rehearsing Suite Judy Blue Eyes for the

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

By Morgan Neville, Caryn Capotosto, Nicholas Ma
Rated by Heather McCartin
Jan 15, 2019

As a child of the early '90s, I grew up with classic PBS children's programming - programming that may look very different from the current PBS Kids programs that are currently airing.  One of my go-to, can't miss programs was Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.  He was my preschool teacher before I attended school and he was my guidance counselor before I knew such a title existed.  While he didn't devote time to ABCs and 123s (that was more Sesame Street's specialty), he introduced the concepts of feelings, emotion, and self-worth, all while showcasing places, people, and events from all around the

Mar 3, 2015

In Working Stiff, Judy Melinek provides a fascinating look into the work of a New York City medical examiner. Never sensational, Melinek describes some of the more interesting autopsies she’s performed, how she dealt with the families of the deceased, and cases that landed her at crime scenes and in courtrooms—all surprising aspects of this occupation that I had never considered.

The grueling, heartbreaking, and necessary work of her office during and after 9/11 is undeniable. And Melinek shares her role in those events openly and honestly. While a successful medical examiner must hold her

Yes Please

By Amy Poehler
Rated by Katie S.
Aug 23, 2015

Yes Please gives readers insight into the crazy, hilarious, sweet and caring mind and life of Amy Poehler. She discusses everything from the day she was born, to the first time she realized she wanted to be an actress, to learning improv in Chicago. She talks at length about the hysterical workings of Saturday Night Live and how much she thoroughly enjoyed herself and working with her fabulous co-workers. Toward the end of the book she describes how wonderful her experience was working on Parks and Recreation and gives little anecdotes about each one of her colleagues and includes information

Yes Please

By Amy Poehler
Rated by Kari E.
Jun 7, 2016

Listening to the audiobook of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please exceeds expectations. To hear the comedic build-up, delivery, and nuance of each joke she lands is a joy. Poehler tells us writing is hard and she is trying to lower expectations so when it turns out well we are impressed. However, there is no need to try and fool the reader; the writing is crisp, witty, hilarious, and often soul-searching. Yes Please showcases the hard work, time, and dedication Poehler puts into her comedy. 

This is not only a memoir; it is an exploration of a life in and outside the spotlight. I expected to enjoy

Aug 16, 2015

While you’re waiting for the new season of Downton Abbey or Call the Midwife, I recommend watching this 2011 drama series based on the early life of famous British veterinarian and author, James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small). The three episodes focus on the young Herriot and his relationships with his classmates at the Glasgow Veterinary College in 1933. The story line includes the rise of the fascist movement in pre- WW II Great Britain and treatment of women in the profession, while painting a true picture of Scottish life in the economically depressed early 1930’s. The series was