Born a Crime

29780253by Trevor Noah
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

This is an incredible story that I couldn’t put down! Part history lesson, part autobiography, full of dry humor and even more grit.

Chronicling his childhood and teenage years in South Africa before his career on the comedy circuit, this is as much his mother’s story as his. A single woman raising a child with a white father during the final years of apartheid, her faith in Jesus was the only constant in a life spent hiding and running.

Noah holds nothing back–the darker stories of his upbringing and the racial tensions are only occasionally lightened with humor. The details of surviving through pirating music and DJ-ing parties are thrown together with his abusive stepfather, and continually searching for a group to belong to as a mixed race child. (Because even with everyone stringently categorized, he is alone). He examines all the aspects of white privilege as deftly as family dynamics and religion. Every chapter is riveting! This should be taught in high schools.

I’ll be recommending this to everyone! It presents the complexities of identity in a compelling, honest way with vivid language, the emotions bleeding through the carefully thought out anecdotes.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Born a Crime is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari – A study of how romance has changed in the last few decades, with plenty of humor! See my review here.
  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey –  This is an excellent illustration of the sacredness of life in any state or size and has similar insights into knowing and accepting yourself as you are. See my review here.
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler – A funny and inspiring autobiography about being a woman in comedy and television. I really enjoyed her perspective! See my review here.
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The Sun and Her Flowers

35606560by Rupi Kaur
Poetry
5 of 5 stars

I have wanted more of her poetry since I read her first book, and this was exactly what I hoped for! Another heartfelt collection of inspiring poems about hurting, healing, and reaching out to others with your story. This book is broken into five parts: wilting, falling, rooting, rising, blooming.

It’s a journey that examines abusive relationships, femininity, and grappling with what it means to be a child of immigrants. These lovingly crafted pieces and illustrations hold nothing back, and I’m so grateful she has chosen to keep sharing her life with thousands of readers! I know I will be inspired by her work every time I read it. Everyone should have these small books on their shelf to turn to whenever you feel like you aren’t enough, so that you can hear the reminder that yes, you are.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Sun and Her Flowers is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur – This emotional journey is tragic, beautiful, hopeful, and inspiring. I’ll be reading this many, many times.  Highly recommend – these simplistic and raw verses can speak to anyone! See my review here.
  • The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace – A story of a girl finding the courage to love herself, and how that vanquished the witch and the dragons. See my review here.
  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey – Although it isn’t written in verse, this is an excellent illustration of the sacredness of life in any state or size and has similar insights into knowing and accepting yourself as you are. See my review here.

The Emotional Craft of Fiction

28915986by Donald Maass
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

My CP’s recommended this to me and I’m so glad they did! Packed with practical wisdom and insight, it’s one of the best craft books I’ve read.

Many books about writing novels focus on the elements of a novel. The plot, setting, characters, pacing, etc. All of those are important, but this book takes a different approach. If the most important element of the reading experience is how a book makes you feel, approach all of the tent poles of a novel with the emotional effects in mind. The best story in the world falls flat if it doesn’t connect emotionally. When you recommend a book, isn’t it because it made you feel something or think about something in a new way? I know that’s definitely true for me!

Broken into sections that highlight the inner and outer journeys of the character, and the journey of the writer in bringing that character to life, it lays out tips for what causes our emotional reactions to fiction and how to guide those reactions to create the resonance you intended. It’s definitely not easy, but the rewards are huge.

I found this to be immensely helpful, and much less condescension towards women / genre writing than is typical in craft books (at least in my experience!). There’s also a helpful checklist in the back of all the techniques covered, so you can quickly refer to them. This is one I will be referring to a lot going forward!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Emotional Craft of Fiction is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder – I’ve heard great things about this screenwriting book and I keep meaning to check it out! Many authors recommend this as one of the most helpful books they read.
  • The Positive / Negative / Emotion Thesauruses by Angela Ackerman – These are three invaluable guides to psychology and character motivations! Also a good way to find the most accurate and interesting way of writing your characters’ emotions and plans as they try to survive your story’s plot.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

32191710by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

This is perfect for anyone like me, anyone with a lot of questions about complicated matters and who isn’t entirely sure how to Google them. I enjoyed this book and I learned a lot!

Perhaps the most charming element of this book (aside from corny humor) is that the response “We don’t know yet” is presented with excitement rather than embarrassment. The sense of wonder in this tiny volume is pervasive and infectious!

Organized roughly chronologically and small-to-large, the chapters discuss topics ranging from the origins of the universe, spheres, and chemical compounds to life on other planets, dark matter, and stars. There’s a lot of information packed into this book and it truly is ideal for picking up to read 20 pages at a time. And despite taking some of the greatest mysteries humans have encountered, it presumes only a high school level of education and is easy to understand.

Highly recommend for everyone! I’ll probably check out more of his books–somehow he’s had time to write quite a few.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner – Another slim volume packed with bite-size insights about links between seemingly unrelated events. I really enjoyed this and it’s great for learning to organize information in your mind differently than you’d expect.
  • The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – Another short book that ruthlessly pares down your possessions to only those that “spark joy” in you, leading to a simpler, presumably happier life. Or if not happier, definitely less stressful. See my review here.
  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey – Although perhaps not quite as informative on a grand scale, this is an excellent illustration of the sacredness of life in any state or size. See my review here.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

28110858by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

I found this little book while browsing a hole-in-the-wall bookshop on the Venice Beach boardwalk. The title charmed me, the jacket intrigued me, and the first chapter pulled me in–I brought it home and I finally read it by the pool, utterly absorbed!

Bailey was struck with a sudden, severe illness at age 34 that left her bedridden, unable to perform the smallest tasks without fatigue and pain. She spends years in near-isolation, with doctors baffled and her friends unsure how to relate. But one day a friend brings a pot of violets with a small woodland snail they found, and leaves it on her nightstand because she “might enjoy it.” Wryly, Bailey wonders how a person “enjoys” a snail. Honestly, this is what amused me enough to buy the book–I shared her skepticism over this small, slimy creature!

As the days passed and she spent days unable to do much but watch the snail explore its new environment, she became acquainted with its habits, its interesting skills, and–yes–its personality! The snail’s pace closely matched her own, and her curiosity about it sustained her through the frustrations and setbacks of her illness. The chapters chronicle many interesting facets of snail life and behavior, and she always manages to tie it back to our lives with humorous or pithy remarks.

The book is broken up into six parts, and each part felt like a small meditation on life and our place in the world. I highly recommend it as a means of coping with stress–it’s a good reminder of what a life lived means and that no life is big or small–it’s just a life.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed – One woman’s journey along 1,000 miles of the PCT in an attempt to heal her heart from devastating loss. See my review here.
  • Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart – A short, cute memoir about the first two floor girls working for a summer at Tiffany & Co. in New York City in 1945. Anyone who has been a transplant from the Midwest to a big city, or has worked in the service industry, will enjoy her snapshots of retail life filled with diamonds and celebrities.
  • The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz – A fish out of water account of moving to Paris and attempting to build a new life. I found his stories to be funny and informative, and the recipes are decadent!

The Princess Saves Herself in This One

32334098by Amanda Lovelace
Poetry
4 of 5 stars
Debut: March 23, 2017

My nonfiction entry of the month! There aren’t exactly any surprises in this volume but it was a satisfying read nonetheless.

This was originally self-published via CreateSpace and much like Milk and Honey, it garnered such a response that the same publisher grabbed it and put out a hard copy. This deeply personal collection explores the arduous healing process after abusive relationships and has an uplifting ending. Broken up into four sections (The Princess, The Damsel, The Queen, You) it’s only after reading the darkest parts of the earlier sections that the final one can provide universal inspiration.

A short, powerful read and one that bravely lets you step into someone else’s soul. It’s impossible to ignore the emotion and courage poured into each piece, and it’s lovely reminder that no matter the grief and loss you suffer, there are bright spaces ahead of you.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Princess Saves Herself in This One is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur – This emotional journey is tragic, beautiful, hopeful, and inspiring. I’ll be reading this many, many times.  Highly recommend – these simplistic and raw verses can speak to anyone! See my review here.
  • The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson edited by Thomas H. Johnson – Dickinson’s unique style is often well-remembered from English classes. This collection is unaltered (many collections change her punctuation or wording to “clarify” the poems), presented in chronological order, and even includes several drafts of some of her work. She explores all kinds of themes (life, death, loneliness), but the ones that hint at her unconventional life as an unmarried woman were the ones I found most interesting.
  • Classic Haiku edited by Tom Lowenstein – This collection of four haiku masters’ poems (Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki) is poignant, reflective, and at times surprisingly funny!
  • Moon in the Pines translated by Jonathan Clements – This has a really good intro that helps you understand and enjoy the poetry. Beautiful artwork is interspersed and there’s some brief interpretations of the poems in the back. I loved it!

Memories of Silk and Straw: A Self-Portrait of Small-Town Japan

740082by Junichi Saga
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

My lovely CP Ella rec’d this to me for Fox Story research and it was immensely helpful! Aside from that though, I just found it to be incredibly interesting.

Informative and brutally honest, this collection of interviews details life in a poor fishing village from a variety of perspectives. It was all fascinating, and made it feel like you were there. The sections are well-organized so that you can see how the different layers and branches of the town functioned together. Each section is short as well, as the person describes a specific detail of life. This kept the narrative focused and honestly, had me wishing for even more.

Anyone fortunate enough to get anecdotes like this from grandparents or great-grandparents knows the feeling of getting a sneak peek into the past. Not what a history book tells you or what a history teacher may have tried to instill (probably with limited success, bound as they are by the “Memorize these names and dates!” teaching philosophy). These are stories from experience, and they make you feel like you were there.

This period in Japanese history was a brutally impoverished time for most people, right before industrialization created wealth for so many (though these interviews express the dubious change in societal values as well).

I’m so glad this doctor saw the value in capturing these stories and viewpoints and I would love to see more books like this one about so many regions. I enjoyed reading this a few chapters at a time–it would probably be overwhelming to read in a few days!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Memories of Silk and Straw is available on Goodreads and on Alibris’ website here. (It is currently out of print, so secondhand stores are your friend).


Similar reads:

  • Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller – An interesting memoir about growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the ‘70s. There are moments of humor and heartbreak as she grows to understand her mother’s alcoholism and the social issues of the time.
  • Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox – An anthropologist’s take on the quirks of modern British society that (in my limited experience) is spot on. Often hilarious, and definitely informative!
  • Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart – A really cute find I stumbled upon at the library! These stories are both funny and poignant, detailing her experiences in NYC in 1945 during a lively time in U.S. history.  Anyone who has worked in the service industry will find her snapshots interesting and relatable. Marjorie and her friend Marty were the first two women to work the shop floor at Tiffany & Co.

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