Category Archives: Memoir

I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short

I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy LegendI Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. Martin Short is a likeable guy who knows some very famous people. His clear love for what he does and for his family shines through. The last two chapters, where he discusses his wife’s illness and death, were very moving. Friends tell me that the audio book is hilarious. I may have to check that out too.

Reading this book also reminded me of just how out there some of his characters were. My teenage daughter uses the phrase “I must say” with great regularity. About the time I finished the book, I really became aware of how often she says it. She’d never heard of Ed Grimley, so we looked up a YouTube video in which he was featured. Now she says it with Ed Grimley’s inflection. It never fails to make me smile.

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Fed, White, and Blue: Finding America with My Fork by Simon Majumdar

Fed, White, and Blue: Finding America with My ForkFed, White, and Blue: Finding America with My Fork by Simon Majumdar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Simon Majumdar’s exploration of America through food is highly readable and a lot of fun. His vivid descriptions of the food he ate along the way made me hungry. His “outside looking in” view of some of the things that we take for granted was also enlightening and thought-provoking, especially the chapter about the volunteer work he did at a food pantry.  I’m glad that he’s now a proud citizen of the United States. We’re a better nation because of it.

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October/November books

It’s mid-December, so I’ll hit the highlights for October and November. I’m also happy to report that I hit my GoodReads Challenge goal to read 100 books in 2012 on December 6. Not that my To Read shelf has any fewer books on it. No matter how fast I read, I can’t seem to make a dent in that list. There are just too many good books and not enough hours in the day.

Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr.
Takes place in the first few months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Upon learning of Lee’s surrender, Sam–a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army–decides to leave his safe haven in Philadelphia and set out on foot to return to the war-torn South. What compels him on this almost-suicidal course is the desire to find his wife, the mother of his only child, whom he and their son left behind 15 years earlier on the Mississippi farm to which they all “belonged.” At the same time, Sam’s wife, Tilda, is being forced to walk at gunpoint with her owner and two of his other slaves from the charred remains of his Mississippi farm into Arkansas, in search of an undefined place that would still respect his entitlements as slaveowner and Confederate officer. The book’s third main character, Prudence, is a fearless, headstrong white woman of means who leaves her Boston home for Buford, Mississippi, to start a school for the former bondsmen, and thus honor her father’s dying wish. This book was heartwrenching in the best way possible. Pitts is a wonderful writer who draws you into the world of suddenly emancipated slaves in the South immediately after the Civil War and hooks you completely.

Redshirts by John Scalzi
If you’re a Star Trek fan you know about the Redshirts. They’re the unnamed crew members who go on away missions and never come back. So, what happens when the Redshirts realize that there’s a pattern? That’s the premise of the book. I’m about 175 pages into the 638 on my Nook copy and I’m loving this. Scalzi does a great job of moving things along and clearly had a lot of fun with the concept. The characters are pretty well-drawn, although they’re clearly based on the stock sci-fi Crew on a Ship stereotypes. I clearly visualize Shatner as the ship’s captain and Dwight Schultz as the hapless (and incredibly lucky) Lieutenant Kerensky. Highly recommended for Star Trek fans or anyone with a basic understanding of the Redshirt archetype. Bonus for fans of listening to books: Wil Wheaton reads the audiobook. I don’t normally do audio, but I’m seriously considering an exception here.

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow
It took me two months to finish this. It’s really interesting and well-written, but it made me so furious that I had to take breaks from it to read something less serious. Don’t let the subject matter deter you though. Rachel can write and makes a convincing argument for rethinking American foreign policy.

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
Boston, 1926. The ’20s are roaring. Liquor is flowing, bullets are flying, and one man sets out to make his mark on the world. Joe Coughlin, last seen in Lehane’s The Given Day, the youngest son of a prominent Boston police captain, has long since turned his back on his strict and proper upbringing. Now having graduated from a childhood of petty theft to a career in the pay of the city’s most fearsome mobsters, Joe enjoys the spoils, thrills, and notoriety of being an outlaw. Lehane is a wonderful writer and this is a great story. Joe is a flawed, incredibly likeable anti-hero and a fascinating foil to his older brother Danny, who was one of the main characters in The Given Day. I highly recommend reading The Given Day, then Live by Night. They complement each other really well.

The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten.: The Tweets of Steve Martin by Steve Martin
Combine Steve Martin and Twitter and you get a very quick, very funny read. He’s warped, but brilliant.

M Is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
I love Neil Gaiman. These stories are weird, creepy, and well written. It was a perfect book to read in October.

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
I came late to the Discworld bandwagon, but now I’m firmly aboard. This was really fun to read. I enjoyed the feminist twist.

American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee by Karen Abbott
Non-fiction that reads like a novel. Gypsy Rose Lee was interesting. Rose Louise Hovick (her real name) was even more so. And Mama Rose was a psychopath.

Take Big Bites: Adventures Around the World and Across the Table by Linda Ellerbee
I’ve been a Linda Ellerbee fan ever since I read And So It Goes while I was in college (at my dad’s recommendation). Nobody tells a story better and funnier. Each chapter centers on a specific place, time, and cuisine and includes a recipe at the end. I’ll read anything she writes, just because she’s so damned good at it.

The Perfect Hope (Inn Boonsboro, #3) by Nora Roberts
This is the third book in the Inn Boonsboro trilogy. I always enjoy Roberts’ books. Although I didn’t like this series as much as the Bride Quartet, it was still entertaining. I liked the ghost aspect, as well as the relationships between the women and the brothers. These books just seemed a little flatter than the ones in the Bride Quartet.

Judgment Call: A Brady Novel of Suspense by J.A. Jance
I have an approach/avoidance problem with this series. The plots are great, but I find myself editing instead of getting lost in the writing. I love J.P Beaumont, but am not as big a fan of Sheriff Brady.

The Lincoln Letter by William Martin
Wow. I loved everything about this book, especially the way the author moved back and forth between Civil War and present-day Washington, DC. That our family took a trip to DC last summer added a little extra something because I could visualize Ford’s Theater, the lockkeeper’s house, and other DC landmarks. He’s very skillful at weaving the present and the past together. It also complemented Lincoln (the film) very well. I liked it so much that I bought all of the author’s backlist (see the next title).

Harvard Yard by William Martin
Skillfully brings past and present story lines together into a fascinating history of Harvard. Historical thread was so vivid that I had dreams about Cotton Mather, which was a little disturbing. I’ll now read anything that William Martin writes.

A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell
Berlin in 1931 is a bleak place. Hannah Vogel is devastated when she sees a photograph of her brother’s body posted in the Hall of the Unnamed Dead. Ernst, a cross-dressing lounge singer at a seedy nightclub, had many secrets, a never-ending list of lovers, and plenty of opportunities to get into trouble. During her investigation into his death, she uncovers intrigue and political scandal at the top of the rising Nazi Party. She begins to fear for her own life, as well as that of Anton, a street urchin who has begun to call her “mother”.  Highly recommended for fans of the Maisie Dobbs series, which takes place in England in the same general time period.

Cold Days by Jim Butcher
Harry Dresden is back from being mostly dead and is introduced to life as the Winter Knight. His first assignment is suitably impossible: kill an immortal. Lots of twists and turns, snark, reunions, and Star Wars/Princess Bride and other popular sci-fi references. I read this in two days and can’t wait for book 15.

I’m currently reading book 5 in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. I’ll do a separate post about that series, because I think I’ve found something that I like just as much as Harry Dresden. I’m eternally grateful to my friend Charlotte Roh for recommending these. They’re stellar.

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

Ruth McBride is a remarkable woman. She was a Polish Jew whose family emigrated to America when she was a small child. Her family settled in rural Virginia, not a welcoming place for Jews at that time. As an adult, she moved to New York City, married a black man (then another, after her first husband died), and converted to Christianity. She raised twelve equally remarkable children.

Her son, James McBride, tells her story by alternating chapters told from her point of view about her early life with chapters told from his point of view as a child and young adult. It’s a fascinating, incredibly moving memoir that deals very directly with racial identity and religion.

While reading this book, I alternated between crying and laughing out loud. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand race, religion, or humanity more generally. It’s an exceptional book by a man who was raised in a chaotic household by a flawed, remarkable woman.

My Fair Lazy by Jen Lancaster

The subtitle of this memoir is “One Reality Television Addict’s Attempt to Discover If Not Being A Dumb Ass Is the New Black; Or, A Culture-Up Manifesto”, which sums up the content pretty well. Lancaster, who also wrote Bitter is the New Black, Such a Pretty Fat, Bright Lights, Big Ass, and Pretty in Plaid, is addicted to reality TV. This book chronicles her efforts, mostly successful, to broaden her cultural horizons to include entertainment that isn’t on MTV or Bravo.

I thought the book was hilarious, although I have a feeling I’d find the author fairly annoying in real life. She does a great job of poking fun at herself as she tries new ethic foods and joins her friend Stacy at the theater. She also writes about her day to day life in Chicago, which includes her dogs and her trio of feral adopted cats (collectively known as The Thundercats, with good reason). Highly recommended for an entertaining poolside read. It’s the perfect beach book.