Archive for category Non-Fiction

Review: Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table
Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written back when food memoirs were not a genre, this book is a funny and fascinating recounting of the life of Ruth Reichl, whose formative years in food were based upon her mother’s atrocious cooking and Ruth’s job of keeping people from eating what her mother made for dinner parties.

Along the way toward adulthood, Reichl deals with her mother’s bipolar disorder, left with a series of housekeepers, family friends and even a French boarding school in Canada. By the time she’s in high school (and for stretches of time when she was nine years old), Ruth was left to fend for herself while her parents traveled, went to parties or pursued their own interests.

Friends and caregivers showed Ruth the wonders of good food, and the book is a journey through her education about how good food can be, how good life can be, and how she could overcome anything in her background to become her own person.

 

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Review: Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin

Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve always loved Steve Martin’s comedy – his surreal and silly standup routines were a favorite of mine in high school, years after he’d already moved on to movies. The book is a touching account of his life as the son of strait-laced Texas Baptists who moved to California, how he escaped from his stifling and disapproving father by learning magic and working at places like Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm, and how he developed a comedy act that changed how comedy worked for a whole generation of performers who arrived after him.

This is a funny, touching, honest and beautiful story, laced throughout with Martin’s weird and self-deprecating humor.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

“I didn’t yet know its name but found out later it was called Flower Power, and I was excited to learn that we were now living in the Age of Aquarius, an age when, at least astrologically, the world would be taken over by macramé. Anticorporate, individual, and freak-based, it proposed that all we had to do was love each other and there would be no more wars or strife. Nothing could have been newer or more appealing. The vast numbers of us who changed our thoughts and lives for this belief proved that, yes, it is possible to fool all of the people some of the time.”

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Review: Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World
Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first saw a children’s adaptation of this story in the bookfair at my daughter’s school and didn’t realize it was based on a true character. I thought, from glancing at the cover, that this was a storybook cat named Dewey and the book was a cutesy thing to teach kids about the Dewey Decimal System in libraries.

Instead, the book (the original book, the grown-up edition) is about a small town in Iowa where someone in the dead of winter in 1988 put a tiny, half-starved kitten down the book return chute at the public library. The librarian found him, cleaned him up, fed him, and he became part of the “staff” at the library. In time, the people of this small town came to love him and then he became a national and international celebrity.

This book was about so much more than a cat, but the cat himself was a wonderful character. The book showed how communities can be fractured and how the power of affection and connection can heal a community. I especially loved the story of how this cat helped people in crisis feel hope again, simply by allowing them to love him. I loved this book so much!

 

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Review: Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America

Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America
Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America by Les Standiford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I still remember when Adam Walsh was abducted, and seeing the news coverage, watching his distraught parents on television and hearing them plead for his life. I also watched the TV movies about it and recall the ensuing crusade for a center to advocate for missing children.

Like most people, I also recognize John Walsh from “America’s Most Wanted” and watched many interviews with him on television, some of which revolved around his young son’s abduction and murder.

So I didn’t think this book would have much to say that was new.

Holy crap, was I wrong. I didn’t realize that for YEARS, the Walshes and some authorities pretty much knew who it had been who had killed Adam. The book talks about how this killer was finally held responsible for the boy’s death. But because of massive and horrible cover-ups, laziness, screw-ups and plain incompetence on behalf of law enforcement, the killer was dead before officials acknowledged that he had been the one to take the life of that adorable little boy.

The book does a great job of portraying the agony of the parents while keeping outrage simmering over the feelings of helplessness as they begged those in positions of power to help them, to do something with information they had.

The Walsh family has done more to advance the cause of advocating for missing and exploited children than anyone in our country – the book is a real eye opener about how lax the system used to be and how much better it is now.

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Review: The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie
The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you ever read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series of Little House books, you will understand how fascinating it is to read someone’s account of researching the books and visiting the sites of the stories.

Wendy McClure breaks down the cultural phenomena of Wilder’s stories, and shows us where Laura was bluntly honest and where she embellished, rewriting her own personal history. Rather than diminishing the power of the books, this knowledge made them seem more dear to me.

We find out about details left out of the books, and there are many hilarious sidebars by the author comparing the books to the emotionally drenched adaptation Michael Landon put on television in the early 70s and 80s.

She and her boyfriend visit the location of the sod house from On the Banks of Plum Creek (where the dugout is gone but the stream and swimming hole remain), the approximate location of the house in Oklahoma territory where “Little House on the Prairie” was set. She spends time in DeSmet, South Dakota at a Little Town on the Prairie festival, and time in Mansfield, Missouri where Laura and Almanzo spent their final years.

Throughout the book, the author comments on how the books affected people (especially girls) and how their stories are a treasure and a commentary on the transformation of America from frontier to civilization.

It is moving, and hilarious, and informative, and hilarious, and man, is it a great read!

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Review: 50 Jobs in 50 States: One Man’s Journey of Discovery Across America

50 Jobs in 50 States: One Man's Journey of Discovery Across America
50 Jobs in 50 States: One Man’s Journey of Discovery Across America by Daniel Seddiqui
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Daniel Seddiqui set out to work for one week at a time, at a different job in every state in the U.S. I got the impression from the book that he was a kind and pleasant person who worked very hard to find jobs and set them up in advance, traveled all over the country, stayed with some people who were complete strangers, and along the way discovered new things about himself and about the work environment in the U.S. He looked for jobs representative of each state’s culture and economy.

It was a quick read, but well done and fascinating.

 

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Review: Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can
Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the few books where I can say I enjoyed the movie way more, but still, this is a fascinating story (mostly true) of how a teenage boy in the 1950s managed to run away from home, impersonate an airline pilot and a doctor and a lawyer….become an expert forger…and get away with it for more than a decade. Originally released in 1980, the book was a hit, but the movie really shone. Read the book if you don’t mind outdated lingo and self-congratulatory Holden Caulfield-esque details; but afterward, be sure to see the movie if you haven’t already.

 

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