Becoming RBG by Debbie Levy

This was just terrific. I had a read a picture book bio called I Dissent, which was very interesting, but I still really didn’t know a lot about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now that I have read this I have even more respect for her. (Also, as a person from NJ, how did I not know she was a professor at Rutgers??) The graphic novel format worked great for telling her story chronologically and methodically. We are shown how Ruth became the woman she was, influenced by her parents, especially her mother, and World War II.
Not only was this informative, it was also entertainingly told! Sometimes I found myself thinking “oh I hope she makes it!” and then realizing “spoiler alert–you know it works out and she becomes a Supreme Court Justice.”

Highly recommended.

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

Another First Second terrific book, this time shining a light on women who were the first in space.  I had never heard of Mary Cleave before and now I think she must be the most brilliant person out there and also “how on earth did she fit in all those careers in her lifetime?!” Before she even joined NASA she had multiple degrees in different scientific fields. This is part Mary’s story, part a little bit Space Race, part the first female Russian cosmonaut, and part women in NASA.
My favorite part was the section describing Mary’s first time in space. Although I have no desire to go up into outer space (um, it seems likely I wouldn’t be chosen) she sure made it sound absolutely amazing and breathtaking.
There is a lot of scientific text in here and presumably it’s all accurate. I wouldn’t know because it was so scientific I had to basically just take in a block of text and say “science blah blah” and move on to the next text.

Very interesting.

The Oceans Between Stars by Kevin Emerson

I was super excited to read this having really enjoyed the first book so, so much. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this sequel as exciting or compelling as the first. For one thing, I felt it really became just too complicated and bizarre. And maybe that’s just science fiction and I don’t typically read straight up science fiction. I loved the prologue which explained events well before the events of the first book. In fact, much of this book is really about explaining why things are happening (in a word, it all comes down to just elaborate revenge plans), but then vague things like giant doorways and “the Drove” get in the way.
There were definitely a lot of things I liked about this: getting Phoebe’s point of view, Phoebe and Liam trying to figure things out, descriptions of vast space. But beyond that I just found myself a bit annoyed wading through the rest.

Calypso by David Sedaris

I have one expectation with a David Sedaris book and it is this–to laugh out loud while reading it, possibly in public and unable to stop.
Expectation met!
Even though my husband was all “oh I already read most of the stories in The New Yorker” I never read the New Yorker and they were all new to me. So there. Pretty much every store made me laugh out loud at something-I just love the things he says, the way he writes. But in this collection I also found a certain sweetness or poignancy. Although you can tell that events in stories span a few years by references to his niece’s age, most of the stories are about his whole family being together at the beach house he and Hugh bought in South Carolina. (I suppose reading them all together, rather than spaced out in the magazine makes it all seem like everything happens in one year.) There’s always been stuff about his family, but his youngest sister’s suicide is what really brings out the stories about how much he and his siblings really get each other and love each other, how much they loved their mother, and how they are with his now pretty elderly father. They’re a weird and funny family and I love reading about them.

I probably laughed the most reading about the Japanese stores he and his sisters can’t resist shopping at.

To Siri With Love by Judith Newman

I came to this book after reading an article from the New York Times on my phone the other day. The article was in the Modern Love column and I was keenly fascinated mostly by the age difference between the husband and wife (30 years), the fact that they had 16 year old kids (immediate mental arithmetic resulting in “good grief! the dad was 70 when his kids were born!!”), and the fact that they never lived together during their marriage. Reading the about the author I saw that Ms. Newman had written about her autistic son in other pieces and a book. I read an excerpt and was hooked and got the book from the library (the print version was faster to get than the e-version!).
This was a fast read (I got it yesterday and finished it this morning) and very enjoyable. On the one hand it was really really informative about what it might be like to have a child with autism and gave me a lot to think about. On the other hand it was also just really funny–well written essays with humor about family life and being a parent and children and aging, etc.
I really enjoyed this very much.

The Truth about Animals by Lucy Cooke

(I’m marking this as finished because I couldn’t renew it and it was late and had to be returned to the library. That said, I had read about 2/3 of it and am eager to get it back to finish that other third. ) Reading a large adult non-fiction book is very rare for me. I found my way to this via Sad Animal Facts on IG, which I found via our daily calendar, It’s Different Every Day. (Look them up, they’re great!)

This book was fantastic-that sweet spot of being very informative, very entertaining, and very well written. I really enjoy Cooke’s writing style. I also really enjoyed the set up of this book. Each chapter is devoted an animal (and I made myself start at the beginning and go straight through rather than skipping straight to, say, panda) and includes information about the earliest writings about the animal and all the misinformation there was about it. And people as recently as the 19th century believed all kinds of craaaaazy stuff (beavers would chew off their own testicles when being pursued by hunters because they knew how valuable they were.

And, it’s no secret that I love lots of weird facts and let’s face it-I am now so full up on weird and fascinating animal facts that I have been accosting my friends, family, and co-workers for the past week and a half with plenty of “Did you know?”s and “I just read an interesting fact about..”

I was just about to enter the world of penguins when I had to send this back.

Rapture Practice: A True Story about Growing Up Gay in an Evangelical Family by Aaron Hartzler

raptureI admit that I began reading this with undisguised fascination for the inner rules and workings of an evangelical Christian family. But it really ended up being more than that. Hartzler is a good writer and manages to convey his genuine love and affection for his family, all while beginning to question the very tenets of his faith. He is also gay, something he is slowly realizing (though never comes out and acknowledges during the book.) I did find myself fascinated and horrified by his parents’ strict rules and thought it was pretty amazing that raised as he was he was able to question the logic of the actions of God (for example, if everything is preordained, why would God bother to create a world that would require the bloody sacrifice of his son? and, best of all, if his parents felt he was damaging his soul by listening to an Amy Grant cd, how could it be that serial killer Ted Bundy could accept Jesus before being put to death and get into the same heaven?)
Well written, but it definitely left me wanting more (something he acknowledges in the afterword. Though I will add a different question I want answered-did he remain friends with Bradley?)

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

[Reading challenge, Alex award)

relishThis has been on my radar to read for quite a long time, and I’m glad that it took me this long to get it because now I got to read it and have it be part of this year’s reading challenge. Interestingly, for last year’s challenge I read her other book, French Milk, and was very disappointed. Relish, on the other hand, did not disappoint. I loved it! I’ve kept it in mind all day, in fact, because so much of the book is about cooking for people you love, and expressing caring and stories through food, and I happen to be in the midst of preparing a wonderful birthday dinner for my mom. This is on the Alex awards list and it is a graphic novel.

Lucy tells all about how she grew up surrounded by food, and how food has formed her memories and the story of her childhood and young adult years (she’s still a young woman-certainly younger than me.) She grew up part of a serious food scene-her mom is a chef, moved to the country in New York, and was a part of developing the local food scene, well connected to other foodies.  In one section Lucy talks about catering a photo shoot of Kate Hudson.

I liked how this was in different chapters-a European adventure, adjusting to country life, visiting Mexico on the brink of adolescence, attending art school, etc. and how each of those told a full story of the foods and what was going on, and concluded with a recipe. And I loved how the recipes are illustrated! I want to make the chocolate chip cookies (with coconut!), sushi rolls, and shephard’s pie. And even though McDonald’s is not my indulgent fast food of choice (though I do love their fries and have a fondness for the burger), I really appreciated her ode to fast food and unapologetic statements that there’s a reason people like to eat it-it’s delicious!

I think that whether or not you are a serious gourmand, a beginner cook, or somewhere in between, you’ll enjoy this.  Possibly people who don’t like food that much wouldn’t get this book. But I don’t get people who don’t enjoy food and so I’ll just say they’re weird!

Breakfast on Mars and 37 other Delectable Essays

marsPaul brought this home and I was attracted by the cover, plus he told me some authors I like were in it.  The premise of this collection is that some excellent authors are going to tackle traditional school essay topics and show you how great they can be.  I thought that the angle might be to satirize the essay a bit, but that was not the case at all.  Each essay genuinely is whatever type of essay it is supposed to be and they are, for the most part, great.  My favorite was the very first one I read, which I read first because I like the author-Scott Westerfeld.  His topic was to debunk a popular idea.  And the idea was the adult books don’t have pictures because adults should use their imaginations and only little kids need pictures.  Well.  I think I would like to make every adult who has that notion or pooh-poohs graphic novels, read this essay.  He explains that once all those classics like Wuthering Heights, A Tale of Two Cities, etc.-books for adults-were illustrated and that the change in publishing was more a matter of the introduction of photography and the decline of the profession of illustrator. It was fascinating and well told.  I also liked “pick a myth or urban legend and argue why it must be true.” Kirsten Miller had me practically believing that Sasquatch might truly exist!

Other popular topics were things like “describe an experience that a profound impact on you”, “describe your unique family”,  a persuasive essay, debating both sides of a topic, and if you could pick a trait from an animal to have what would it be? (Tails!)

This was a surprisingly enjoyable book and I hope that high school English teachers might keep a copy in their rooms for students to read and get inspiration from.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

ulpMy mom gave this to Paul for his birthday and as soon as he was done with it I had to read it, too.  If you’re not familiar with Roach she is a very popular non-fiction author who has written about sex and death previously and is know for being a fun science writer.  I thought I had read her books, but it turns out I’ve just seen her on tv a lot and possibly read excerpts before. Thus, it was an especially fun read for me as I loved discovering her chatty style and her hilarious footnotes. If you are looking for readable non-fiction, Roach is for you. If you love interesting and strange factoids, or maybe are a fellow reader of Mental Floss, then Roach is for you. For this topic Roach starts at the top and works her way down. Thus, we begin with taste and smell and chewing and work our way down the digestive track to flatus (my new favorite word) and poop.  I did cringe at some of the poop stuff, and can’t stop referring to my family’s flatus now. But how interesting to find out that Elvis Presley had a mega colon and that’s what probably killed him! Or that our jaws are fabulous designed to exert just the right amount of pressure for chewing and pull back in a fraction of a second so that we don’t smash our teeth.   I wish this had more illustrative photos (after hearing the megacolon described, I want to see it.) I also really enjoyed reading about her research into pet foods. Competitive eating disgusts me, so I found that chapter especially icky.  Roach really does shed a light on how fascinating the body is and perfectly it works in terms of getting nutrition and getting rid of waste.  She also sheds a light on how many fascinating and varied jobs there are out there.  Also that people volunteer for experiments involving flatus, smelling dog’s flatus, etc.

Now more than ever I feel a desire to go visit the Mütter Museum.

*It’s been a week since I read this book and I keep thinking about different parts of it. Let me share with you a part I keep recalling because I think it sums up both Roach’s funny writing style, as well as the fascinating facts that most of us have never bothered to think of before. She says to think of and wonder at the anus, for it must know who is knocking at the door-liquid, solid, or gas-and then open accordingly.  Now that’s some phrasing that sticks with you!