Showing posts with label cheryl strayed. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cheryl strayed. Show all posts

Monday, June 6, 2016

Nonfiction Mini-Reviews x3!

I didn't mean to do it, but my last 3 reads have all been nonfiction...and now that I've realized it, I'm pining for more!  Send me all your latest nonfiction recommendations, if you please.  In the meantime, here's some snapshots of what I've been reading lately:

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
W.W. Norton, 2016
received from the publisher for an honest review


If you didn't see my review of Mary Roach's Packing for Mars a few months back, let me tell you that she specializes in hilarious, science-based nonfiction.  She generally chooses unconventional topics (the particulars of space travel, the science of human cadavers, etc), researches the minutiae behind them, and peppers her findings with off-color humor.  Now that is MY brand of nonfiction.

In Roach's latest release, the topic is war, but not in the way it's covered via politics or military strategy.  Instead, she's delved into the oft-not-discussed ways that our military uses science to provide for our soldiers at home and overseas.  For example: what happens when a Navy SEAL really, really has to poop during a mission?  (I'm dead serious.  She actually ASKED A NAVY SEAL THAT.)  How are military hospitals providing for soldiers that lose not just limbs, but also their genitals, during combat?  How do submariners in the Navy prepare for undersea conditions?  (Nice shout outs to my hometown of Groton, CT (Submarine Capital of the World, say heyyy) in that section!)  These are the questions that you didn't even know you had, but now you want them answered.

Overall I enjoyed this one, because Roach's humor was on point (as expected), and the research was interesting.  However, as a whole the book did not click with me quite as well as Packing for Mars did.  I felt like the chapters were a bit disjointed from each other, which disrupted the flow between topics.  Plus, I found it harder to laugh at her humor on this particular subject.  Giggling over space toilets is one thing, but finding the humor in genital reconstruction for wounded soldiers was a bit tougher.  Perhaps my humor has it's limits?  I never thought I'd see the day...

Anyway, this is worth the read for followers of Mary Roach, and I think anyone connected to the military would find it intriguing.  It's not my favorite of hers, but I'm still interested in reading her other work.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Knopf, 2012
borrowed from the good ol' public library

The latest read for my MOMS Club Book Club!  This is Cheryl Strayed's memoir of when, after dealing with her mother's sudden death, her own divorce, as well as a descent into drug addiction, she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  The trail runs from Mexico to Canada via California, Oregon, and Washington.  Strayed tackled the trail with no previous backpacking experience, in the hopes that she would find something to allow her to get her life back on track.

There is a ton of hype about this book (especially since the release of the Reese Witherspoon movie), but I understand why.  This is a very moving memoir, and Strayed is startlingly honest about her childhood, her failed marriage, and her ups and downs on the trail.  I found many of her experiences to be inspiring, even in her weakest moments.  The interesting cast of characters that she encounters during her trek will (mostly) raise your faith in humanity.  Plus, it's excellent hiking inspiration for the outdoorsy readers--I already told my husband that we must put the PCT on our bucket list!

Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon by Ed Caesar
Simon & Schuster, 2015
borrowed from the good ol' public library

Love me a good running read these days!  In Two Hours, Ed Caesar discusses exactly what it would take for a professional marathoner to eventually break the coveted 2:00 mark.  The current world record is 2:02:57, and while 2 minutes and 57 seconds doesn't sound like a long time to most, to elite marathoners it is an enormous divide.  Caesar looks into the science behind it--there are researchers who have done a variety of tests in order to estimate what they believe to be the absolute limit for how quickly a human can run 26.2 miles.  But alongside that, he follows the marathon pursuits of Geoffrey Mutai, an elite Kenyan runner who has his sights set on both a world record and the 2:00 wall.  This combination of scientific and personal perspectives on the upper limits of marathoning made for a fascinating book.

One of my favorite tidbits from this book is the discussion of how modern day road races do not provide favorable conditions for runners to get the fastest marathon time possible.  Many are hilly, provide very little shade, and don't allow the runners to employ pacers (non-racing runners who are hired to pace them at exactly what they need to hit a certain finish time--one racer will sometimes use a few different pacers throughout a race, if it is allowed).  Plus, they are weather dependent--you could be in the best shape of your life, but if you wake up and have to run your marathon on a sunny 80 degree day, the chances of a good time are nil.  This is just one of many fun discussions that got my brain turning in this book.  Two Hours is a quick read, and excellent brain food for anyone with running interests!

What are your current reads?  Any new nonfiction on the docket for you lately?  What's the best memoir you've read lately?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed


Title: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
Author: Cheryl Strayed
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: July 10, 2012
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice. 
Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond.  Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.


My Review:

The raves that I heard about this book.  THE RAVES.  Shannon @ River City Reading was the ringleader, but Leah @ Books Speak Volumes was in on it, as well as several other of my book blogger friends...hard to remember them all because THE RAVES all started to smoosh together after a while.  :)  I knew this was a must for Nonfiction November.

Honestly, I was unsure about how I would like this at first.  Excerpts from an advice column?  Can't I get the same thing by perusing Dear Abby?

Answer: no.  Dear Sugar (aka Cheryl Strayed) is not one lick like Dear Abby.

The big difference in Sugar's responses is how she adds (very) personal experience to them.  Most advice columnists give suggestions based on seemingly objective, well-rounded perspectives.  Sugar, however, often gives advice by relating it to specific events in her own past.  This includes her experience with everything from divorce, to child molestation, to affairs, to grieving a loved one, and beyond.  This, paired with her unique tone (best described, I'd say, as "snarky and smart, yet loveable"...she calls everyone "sweet pea," how adorable is that?) gives her columns a flavor the likes of which I've never seen before.  Sugar tells it like it is, moreso than any other advice columnist that I've encountered.

While not every piece in this book will relate to your own life, I'm quite sure that any adult reader will find at least one story here that pulls quite harshly on their heartstrings.  Many of the letter writers are looking for advice on love and marriage, but others are worried about work, friends, children, relationships with their parents, grief after a death, etc.  Every age from high schoolers to 60+ are represented, so you'll find a wide range of perspectives.

While I did fall for this book by the time it was finished, I have to be honest--I was pretty lukewarm about it at first.  I think Sugar's tendency to share so much from her own past was off-putting for me.  I kept thinking, "Is this a tell-all memoir, or an advice column?"  As I mentioned above, many of her personal revelations can be quite shocking, and I think that made me feel like it was teetering beyond what is appropriate in trying to counsel these anonymous letter-writers...it took the focus off of the letter-writer, and put it more on her.  When she gives advice (even without any personal narrative), it is beautiful, eloquent, and tear-inducing, and I often felt that the stories of her past were unnecessary to get her points across.

However, as the book went on, I did become more comfortable with Sugar's level of "oversharing," so to speak.  Her stories illustrate some rather poignant life lessons, and for that, you've got to commend her honesty.  I think once I saw the stories paired with her tone, it all started to flow a bit better, and I fell into the rhythm of her conversations with these help-seekers.

My thoughts on this book are rather complicated, as you may be able to tell (though given the subject matter, I'd say that's rather appropriate).  My overall feeling is that I did enjoy it--Sugar has a way of getting to the heart of the matter that exceeds the abilities of any of her contemporaries, and her advice is truly amazing.  Plus, the book is perfect if you're looking for something that's easy to pick up and put down at will, as each letter is only a few pages in length.  However, sometimes I wished Sugar's guidance was allowed to stand on its own, without the addition of her personal experiences.  I commend her for sharing them, but I didn't always think they were appropriate tools for giving counsel, as they sometimes took the focus away from the contributor's concerns.

I fully expect to be lacerated for this review, but there it is.  :)  I will say that I'm curious about Cheryl Strayed's other work now, though!  And I look forward to getting to know her through her more biographical works.

Have you read Tiny Beautiful Things?  Do you think it's helpful for an advice columnist to add in their personal stories and life lessons, or are they better left at home?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Nonfiction TBR Time! #NonFicNov

Ah yes, here we are in the final week of Nonfiction November.  I must say, I have very much enjoyed this event!  It has rekindled my interest in nonfiction, and reminded me of the many, many nonfiction titles that are awaiting me on my shelves.  Definitely looking forward to participating again next year.

Current nonfiction reading status: I finished Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed last week (review coming soon!), and am currently reading The Race Underground by Doug Most.  I likely won't finish it before the end of the month, because it's quite long, but that will be my first nonfic post for December.

Anyway, let's talk about this week's topic!:
New to My TBR: It’s been a week full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

Well, I didn't look at this week's topic until...right now, so I didn't keep very careful track of where I saw all these awesome nonfiction titles this month!  But I will do my best to give credit where credit is due.  Honestly, I don't have a ton of time to peruse other blogs these days anyway, so I will just highlight for you some of top nonfiction titles that are currently on my TBR list:

1. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
I first remember this book being mentioned long ago by Jennifer at The Relentless Reader.  Her review piqued my interest, and I've had this one on my radar ever since.  Tells the story of 5 days in a New Orleans hospital after Katrina.

2. Stiff by Mary Roach
This has been on my TBR almost as long as I've had a Goodreads account (a very long time).  The curious lives of human cadavers, eh?  Color me curious!

3. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This book has been recommended about a billion times by...everyone, but after getting to know Strayed a bit in Tiny Beautiful Things, I really want to pick this one up soon and hear more of her story.

4. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
This one was recommended to me via Twitter by @MsRedPen (of Ms Red Pen's blog).  Goodreads says it "reads like a literary thriller with cancer as the protagonist."  Hmmmm.

5. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Another one that's been on my TBR since time immemorial.  I really enjoyed Larson's In The Garden of Beasts, so I am eager to check this one out as well.

I could sit here and write this list forever, so I'll just leave you with the first five that came to mind.

What's on your nonfiction TBRs these days?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Diversity and Nonfiction #NonFicNov


Howdy, readers!  It is week 3 of Nonfiction November, and I am moving right along with my nonfic reading.  I'm still working on 1776 by David McCullough...in my defense, it is a very dense book, so it's taking me some extra time to finish.  However, it is worth every bit of the extra effort.  This is such an in-depth look at the American Revolution, and it's hard for me to put it down!  My next book will be Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed...I wanted to read at least one nonfiction book this month that was based solely on recommendations from other readers, and this one has been mentioned a LOT (hiiiiii Shannon from River City Reading!).  Stay tuned for that once I'm done getting my history on.

On to this week's featured nonfiction topic!  Diversity in Nonfiction:
"What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to book’s location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background? What countries/cultures do you tend to enjoy or read about most in your nonfiction? What countries/cultures would you like nonfiction recommendations for?"

Hmmmm.  Well, I could give a fairly textbookish answer to what "diversity in books" means, but this is supposed to be what it means to ME.  So if I'm being honest, I consider myself a "diverse" reader if the book I'm reading has a setting or cultural focus outside the US/Canada.  (Oh Canada, I know you're international too, but since it takes me less time to drive to your border than it does to drive to my own parents' house...I'm not considering you very diverse for my own reading purposes.)  I don't often take the author's nationality into account, and I know that that is not necessarily the best way to define diversity--because can a white American author write about, let's say, Peruvian culture in the same way as a Peruvian author?  Likely not.  But when I read books (especially books that I pick up on a whim), I rarely take the time to look into the author's background before I jump in, and so their culture is not usually on my radar while reading.

I don't think this somewhat narrow view of literary diversity necessarily makes me a less-diverse reader, but it probably is something that is worth paying attention to in the future when I read.  Because as I suggested above, two authors with different backgrounds writing about the same culture are probably not going to approach it the same way--which, in turn, will affect my experience as a reader.

However, I should also note that setting alone is not an accurate way to depict diversity.  For example: Mitchell Zuckoff's Frozen in Time is set primarily in Greenland.  But I didn't learn a darn thing about Greenlandic Inuit culture in that book, because it was focused mostly on the rescue of American servicemen in that country, not on the people of the country itself.  Thus, in my eyes, that is not a "diverse" read.  I have to get some actual insight into the inhabitants of that country in order to feel like I've diversified my reading.

As far as the countries/cultures I tend to focus on the most in nonfiction...after looking through my Goodreads lists, it seems that I don't have a particular focus.  I've covered Kiribati (The Sex Lives of Cannibals), Sudan (God Grew Tired of Us), France (Paris, My Sweet), Sweden (Yes, Chef), the UK (Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson) and many more.  No particular focus here, which is as I expected, because I find it interesting to read about pretty much any culture.  That's one of the reasons I love nonfiction--the opportunity to learn something completely new, or at least to learn about a completely new aspect of something that I am already a little familiar with.

As for a location that I'd love to get recommendations for: I have two.  First is the Netherlands.  My stepfather's family is from Holland, and I fell in love with the country after a visit there in 2010.  It would be great to get my hands on some good nonfiction that is based there!  Second is Barcelona, Spain.  Another location that my husband and I have visited and adored, but I have yet to find any books set there.
My husband and I standing by a canal in Amsterdam. Throw in a windmill and some stroopwafels and this would basically be the most Dutch thing ever.
How do you define "diverse" nonfiction?  Have any good Dutch nonfic reads to recommend to me?  And for more on my thoughts about "traveling through reading", check out this post I did last year!
 
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