Last weekend, my parents came to visit me in Kansas. We spent our time touring new places, visiting old friends, hiking trails, and relaxing. While I loved seeing my parents, the highlight of their visit was that my mom brought me my last Book of the Month selection. I was so excited to begin David Sedaris’ newest collection of essays, and I was not disappointed.
I’ve mentioned before that I adore Sedaris. He’s hilarious, his writing is quippy, and his descriptions of living in North Carolina and France are similar to my own experiences. His writing made me love reading essays and I’ll read anything he suggests. I’ll go as far to say he’s my favorite living author (sorry Margaret Atwood, you’re my number 2.) Although he released a collection of his diaries last year, his last book was released over 5 years ago. Needless to say, I was eagerly awaiting this book and was so happy to see it on BotM.
The essays in Calypso mostly center on Sedaris’ family. There are many stories from his beach house in NC and the time he spends there with his family. Also mixed in are a few pieces on his adventures in England, namely his trash collecting and his fox pal, Carol. Sedaris doesn’t shy away from painful memories, like his sister’s suicide, or descriptions that don’t paint him in the best light. Rather, he painstakingly chronicles it all, in a way that is sometimes funny, but always insightful.
If you’re a fan of Sedaris, I think you’ll love this one, and if you’re new to essays, this collection would be a great place to start.
Calypso. David Sedaris, Little Brown & Company, 2018.
I’ve been in a reading slump recently, what with working overtime, expanding my social circle, trying new recipes,
and binge watch Grey’s Anatomy. Despite the lack of books I’ve been reading, I have managed to add several to my list of books I need to find time to read. Thank you Dear Fahrenheit 451. This book is a short collection of essays/ open letters to one librarian’s favorite books.
What I love about this book is that it covers a wide range of literature. While classics like Anna Karenina and Fahrenheit 451 get attention, so do collections of poems, popular fiction, and children’s books. The letters are short and quippy, perfect for reading when you don’t feel like reading. What’s more, it sheds light on whether or not librarians judge you when you check out certain books (I’m looking at you, Fifty Shades of Grey.)
Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks : A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life. Annie Spence, 2017.
What is hygge, you might ask. Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) is a Danish word that has no translation in English. Essentially, it is the feeling of inclusion, belonging, and comfort. If you had a good childhood with a stable home life, hygge might be described as that feeling you get when you return home. It’s familiar, it’s safe, it’s a bit nostalgic.
Meik Wiking, the author of the book, is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute. He researches what makes people happy for a living and believes the reason the Danes are consistently the happiest people on earth is because of hygge. His book offers easy ways to incorporate hygge into your daily life, while also giving a first-hand look at Danish culture.
What I loved about this book is that it was so simple, and that in itself is a bit hygge. Wiking describes in great detail how the Danes live a happy lifestyle. What’s surprising is that Wiking doesn’t imply that the Danes are happier because of the things they have, but simply because they take time to enjoy the things in their lives. So take some time to slow down this weekend and discover hygge.
The Little Book of Hygge. Meik Wiking, Penguin Life, 2016.
One of my goals for 2018 is to become more eco-friendly. I want to eat more locally and organically, use less plastic, and stop purchasing things I don’t really need. Because of these aspirations, I turned to Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson for inspiration.
In all honestly, I wanted to like this book. I had previously watched one of Johnson’s talks and felt inspired by her life. She, her husband, and two sons produce just one Mason jar of trash a year. They’ve committed to the shared economy and second-hand markets, buy in bulk, refuse one-use things, and live a more simple life. Johnson’s talk is helpful, her book was not.
The main disappointment for me was that the book didn’t go beyond her experience. It seemed redundant after having read through her blog and listen to her eco-talks. There wasn’t a lot of new information, and at times I felt she was writing just to meet a page quota. For instance, at the end of every chapter, Johnson includes an ABC wrap-up of steps readers can take to move towards zero waste. These lists reiterate the same information for multiple letters. Here’s an example : “Elect officials concerned about waste issues; Praise good practices and products; Sign petitions that support Zero Waste initiatives.” These steps are essentially the same: become involved in the movement and use your voice to influence others.
Now that we’ve gotten through my main problem with the book, I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss other things I liked and did not like.
- The author is clearly passionate about zero waste and has no trouble relaying that passion to her audience.
- Johnson demonstrates that small changes do add up over time. One-use disposables (i.e. plastic bags and cutlery) clog up our landfill and are completely unnecessary; with a bit of preparation, anyone can cut these out of their life.
- She spent a lot of time writing about composting, which was helpful. I never knew that food can’t properly break down in a landfill.
- Johnson never went beyond the individual. It seems that if we could all get on board, we could stop using plastic. But aren’t corporations also responsible for part of the waste. If corporations don’t change their practices, then how much will using reusable bags really help?
- The author’s suggestions may not be attainable for all. She’s clearly well-off and lives in a “European-style” community in California. She has access to bulk bins and can walk or bike most places. But what about people who live in food deserts, or in rural areas where public transportation does not exist? How can those who do not have access to zero waste options participate in the movement?
- She suggests giving out raisins for Halloween. Seriously, I know she’s French, but that’s unforgivable. All laughing aside, I also had a problem with her section on birth control. She claims that using the pill and condoms is wasteful because of the packaging. She also writes that surgeries like vasectomies and hysterectomies are wasteful because of the one-time use items associated with hospitals (i.e. gloves, packaging for instruments, etc.) I’m not going to start a lecture on whether or not people should use birth control, but isn’t it irresponsible to create another human who will create tons of trash in his/her lifetime, just to avoid throwing away your birth control packaging?
If you’re interested in zero waste, check out some of the blogs or YouTube videos of zero wasters. This movement seems to be such an individual experience, I’m not sure a book could ever be written to cover all the aspects of it.
Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste. Bea Johnson. Scribner, 2013.
For those of you who do not know, I adore David Sedaris. I love his quippy world view, and his stories of France reflect my own experiences living in that country. I was excited to start Jenny Lawson’s book, because many people have compared her writing style to that of Sedaris.
For the most part, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was funny. Lawson is quite sarcastic, and some of her anecdotes are outright hilarious. However, her writing lacks a certain refinement, which was disappointing to me. Her humor is a bit obvious, and sometimes it seemed she was trying too hard to be funny. Her book lacked the effortlessness that Sedaris has. I understand that sometimes it takes authors a few tries to find their voice and style, so I’ll certainly give Furiously Happy a shot as well.
While I wasn’t completely blown away by this book, I would recommend it to anyone who wants a fun read. If you can get past a lot of the unfunny banter with her husband and the writing in all caps, you could easily read this book in a few days.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir. Jenny Lawson. Putnam, 2012.
In light of the recent national debate (and violence) over removing Confederate statues, it was a rather timely decision to read Desmond Tutu’s work on reconciliation and collective healing. Tutu is one whose work I’ve admired for quite some time, and I was happy to finally delve into one of his books.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Desmond Tutu and his work, he was the Archbishop of Capetown, South Africa, and is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient (1984.) He’s a theologian, a human rights activist, a professor, and was a major opponent of the South African apartheid (think of a religious Nelson Mandela.)
The premise of this book is that societies must actively seek reconciliation after human rights violations have occurred on behalf of their government. Tutu’s work outlines the endeavors of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) of which he was a member. The TRC provided a platform for the victims of apartheid to share their experience while offering amnesty to the perpetrators in exchange for their confessions and apologies. Rather than punishing those responsible for the apartheid, Tutu argues that having them publicly confess and then pardoning them laid a solid foundation on which South African society could be built.
Overall, Tutu’s book is truly moving. He offers many well-chosen examples to illustrate life for Blacks under the apartheid state, while also recounting the proceedings of the TRC. His work offers both an overview of the South African apartheid and the theological justification for forgiveness in times of atrocity.
No Future without Forgiveness. Desmond Tutu. Image, 2000 (first published in 1999).
I almost never recommend historical books, especially if they’re non-fiction. Mostly because historical non-fiction is almost always written for historians. While I read a lot of excellent books published by academic presses, I would never tell my friends to read them because, quite frankly, academic reading is much more rigorous than leisure reading.
Erik Larson’s work is the best of both worlds. Seriously. Larson was trained as a historian and a journalist, which means he knows how to dig for evidence and analyze what he finds, and write a narrative. Devil is actually two stories- the first is of the building of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the second of H.H. Holmes, America’s first known serial killer. Larson weaves accounts of Holmes’ murders against the backdrop of the designing of the World’s Fair.
The chapters on Holmes are, at times, gruesome, but I found them to be well-balanced with the story of the World’s Fair. This book does have a lot of detail in it, but I could not put it down. If you liked Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, I think you might like this one, although if you’re not a fan of Capote, you might still enjoy the history of the Chicago World’s Fair.
As a side note, have you read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? I’ve been trying to read it for over a week, but I keep losing interest. I think the dragging on may be part of his style and important to the book, but I’m not sure I can finish it. What do you think, should I hang in there, or move on to the next book?
Erik Larson. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. Vintage Books, 2004.