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    November 2019 Booklist

    A few more self help books than usual. I equate it to having had a rough October with some staffing issues, broken trust and the annual insurance payments/audits for QED which are the largest expense outside of rent and salaries and a huge time/emotional drain.

    Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals by Rachel Hollis – Unlike the 2nd book in this list below, this book has a ton of actionable items. Helpful for anyone who is struggling to move ahead with their dreams and goals. I enjoyed her first book Girl, Wash Your Face, but she has a lot of people who dislike her for one reason or another. It’s odd how much vitriol a person can get for putting out positivity and tools for a better life. I can only equate it to when Christian lost weight and he got the most vile hate mail as a result. Seeing genuine accomplishment is an indictment of one’s own shortcomings.

    That said, she’s bit more self-aggrandizing this go around (talking about her wealth, looks, fake boobs, etc.) but she’s using them as examples of ways she’s gotten what she wants and sorry, she’s not sorry. I can totally see how that would turn off folks as being un-Christian-like (she’s a Christian, apparently?) or unrealistic for women who are struggling to make ends meet while raising kids, etc.

    There was some repetition from her first book, but not overly so. It’s divided into three parts: Excuses to Let Go Of, Behaviors to Adopt, and Skills to Acquire. She gives specific and practical advice some of which I already practice myself using my Passion Planner journal. I swear by these, have been on board with them when they were in the developmental Kickstarter phase and gift them often. They’re great. #PashFam

    The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer – A self help book on spirituality, meditation, mindfulness, etc. but also a bunch of yammering. It gives no actionable, tangible advice except that you should meditate and let it go. Let it go? I’m boiling with rage, stress and fear and need to let it go?! HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO DO THAT, MOTHERFUCKER?! I suppose breathing, meditation, yoga, all the things I already know and would implement if my soul crushing schedule allowed. As with all books, seminars, things I experience, I say that if I walk away with only *one* thing learned then it is worth it. So this book was a worthy read for me in spite of my frustrations with it, because I did take away a few things:

    I am not my thoughts and should become more aware of those idle thoughts and not get swept away in worrying about things that haven’t even happened. Those are big ones for me. Before I opened QED, I was sleeping maybe 2 hours a night because of the freakish amount of worry over stuff that hadn’t happened and, to date, has still not happened. What a WASTE of energy, emotion and time!

    Also, the section on death and how not fearing death is freeing is so true. When I was going through cancer, life became technicolor and the whole “enjoy every moment while it lasts” cliché became my mantra. While I do still like to plan and have lists and goals, I’m no longer worried about the big ones down the road because I might not ever make it past today. I’m not sad about it. It’s just true. So today is pretty great, and I’m better at recognizing it.

    The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History by Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman – They’re comedians and so this is a light-hearted romp. A long, dual interview the banter between them light and you can tell they genuinely care for and crack each other up.

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg – Another book written by a rich, white woman about becoming a leader in the male-dominated workforce. But I actually did like this one! The usual stuff was in there about work & life balance, motherhood, etc. But lots of other helpful reminders/advice about women not inserting, exerting or challenging themselves and the importance of mentors and diversity in hiring. Nothing groundbreaking, but I enjoyed it.

    Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon – Oh, man, “heavy” is right. It made me so emotional. It’s written as a letter to his mother, a beautiful and difficult framing.

    Recently my friend Renny read my memoir. He’s in prison with my dad and so had refrained from reading it so as not to upset my father who had told him not to read it saying, “It was bullshit. Full of lies.” Renny finally read it, admitted to Dad that he did and opened up the lines of communication about domestic violence. Renny told my father, “Think of the book as a long letter to you.”

    So, yeah, I related to Laymon’s memoir in more ways than one. We both grew up poor in abusive households but he had the added struggles of being black and raised by a single mother in Jackson, Mississippi. His mother is as beautiful and smart and complicated as my father. His story recounts much physical and sexual abuse, weight and food issues, gambling, and struggling with a world skewed to benefit white people.

    Laymon also shared a letter from his mother on his blog that acknowledges his truth, apologizes and thanks him for sharing it. I dream of the day my dad can do the same.

    I’d like to re-read this book — a 2nd reading is often much more insightful because you are not in shock of discovering new (often uncomfortable) twists in a story. And I’m going to write a letter to my dad.

    The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do (A No F*cks Given Guide) by Sarah Knight – If you don’t like the “F” word, skip this and her other books. It is used liberally. Truthfully it was a little thin on practical advice and advice on lot of stuff that I just don’t sweat like workplace and friends/family etiquette (weddings, showers, family travel/gatherings).

    In a nutshell: What do you enjoy doing? Do more of that. What activities that drain your energy? Find a way to eliminate those so you can do more of what you enjoy.

    So, taking this author’s advice, December will be the last time I write out these reviews. It’s a time suck and I don’t really enjoy writing them. I feel…guilty? And also I really whip them and my thoughts together so haphazardly that the reviews aren’t even great reads. Will this disappoint you or anyone? I don’t give a fu*k. 🙂

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    October 2019 Booklist

    A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell – I’m in awe of this incredible woman, Virginia Hall. The book is a best seller and is being adapted into two movies for a reason. Hall was an American spy who worked undercover in France during World War II and later for the CIA. Remarkable acts of bravery, persistence and cunning throughout that are really only now coming to light thanks to the brilliant work of Purnell. That Hall was not more celebrated before is partly due to gender discrimination and in part due to the secretive nature of her work and Hall’s unwillingness to exploit that no matter how many years had passed. I can’t wait for the movie as some of the scenes –an escape through snow-covered mountains– must be seen to fully absorb the breathtaking scope of Hall’s daring nature and perseverance.

    Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep – “A compelling hybrid of a novel, at once a true-crime thriller, courtroom drama, and miniature biography of Harper Lee. If To Kill a Mockingbird was one of your favorite books growing up, you should add Furious Hours to your reading list today.” —Southern Living

    “Thriller” might be a bit much –it’s pretty clear who is killing people and why– but it’s most definitely an interesting look into the early days of the insurance industry when anyone could buy a policy on anyone else’s life without any checks and balances. That is just begging for murder & mayhem. How stupid!

    The courtroom stuff isn’t all that dramatic either but, again, quite interesting if you’re into crime, law and punishment.

    The miniature biography section was immensely enjoyable. I had little knowledge about Lee and her relationship with her childhood friend Truman Capote. I also enjoy hearing tales of writers living in NYC in the decades before me. Overall, a really great book that I would recommend for fans of Lee’s and/or true-crime narratives.

    Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller – Emily Doe was raped by Brock Turner who received a paltry 6-month sentence (the appalling lenience resulted in the judge’s recall). Emily Doe is reclaiming her name –Chanel Miller– and identity by coming forward in this exquisitely written account of the events that unfolded that night and in the days since. I expected it to be so much more upsetting and depressing than it was. Instead, I was so impressed with her story and beautiful writing. What an inspiration she is to me, giving me the instruction manual on how to be brave in the face of extreme fear. What a rebuttal she has given to the nasty pit that is anonymous public opinion on online comment and forums. I’m immensely proud of her.

    The Killer Across the Table: Unlocking the Secrets of Serial Killers and Predators with the FBI’s Original Mindhunter by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker – Serial killer stuff is so fascinating to so many people and that is, alone, worth investigating. Why is this so interesting? The Netflix show “Mindhunter” is based on the work of Douglas and Olshaker. More than a few people said of the show, “It’s okay, but you would like it.” Mmmkay? LOL!* So I looked up Mindhunter, found out Douglas has written numerous books and decided to check out this latest one.

    In it, he mainly studies four criminals, but other infamous cases are discussed as tangential examples of revealing criminal behavior, desires, motivations, etc. Coming from his logical and methodical way of studying criminals and this being a narrative from the criminal and investigator’s perspective, the book depletes much of the humanity of the victims and families. But it is incredibly fascinating and these gentlemen have done great work in developing criminal profiles and stopping more violence against innocent people. Kudos.

    *I ended up watching season one and people are correct: It’s okay. Just okay. I won’t keep watching, though. The lead character based on Douglas is a bit bland. Mostly, I feel like blurring the truth with fiction in this tv dramatization muddles everything up. If I’d like to watch something on the BTK killer, for example, I’ll just watch a documentary or read a book.

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    September 2019 Booklist

    Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight – This book took me almost a month to finish but I have never read any single book about Douglass, so I had a lot to learn about his extraordinary life. I had already read so much about him through biographies of past presidents Grant and Lincoln, the Civil War, etc. And all of that is in there. But like when I read Washington’s biography, I felt like I had already learned and knew too much to really get wrapped up in large chunks of the story.

    I very much enjoyed learning about his early childhood and days in bondage, his escape to freedom and finding love, purpose and family and the difficulties that come with being an icon and living life on the road.

    What I hadn’t expected, was to relate to Mr. Douglass so personally as an artist. After slavery was abolished and the Civil War was over, Mr. Douglass earned a living by touring the country giving speeches. Traveling in those days was grueling enough so imagine how difficult it was for him an older, black man. It’s admirable and honorable, but a tough way to eke out a living.
    But he was an artist. His art was his storytelling. <3
    After a whirlwind tour giving his “How I Escaped From Slavery” speech, he fell into a depression of sorts. What I liken to “post-publication depression” that my comedy and author friends have all experienced. That feeling after a major accomplishment of, “What next? Is my last, best thing behind me? What if this is all I ever am or do or will be known for?” Douglass felt some shame in that feeling. It was a bit perverse to feel empty and longing for more. Here he had helped abolish slavery, why wasn’t that enough for him?

    Reflecting back on the immediate aftermath of the war Douglass admitted that “a strange and perhaps perverse feeling came over me. Great joy over the ending of slavery was at times tinged with a feeling of sadness. I felt that I had reached the end of the noblest and best part of my life.”

    I was riding my bike when I was listening to this part of the audiobook, and I laughed out loud so hard I startled a construction worker. I just couldn’t believe my ears. I say and feel this way all the time after Ochi’s Lounge and Comix closed, after my first memoir was published, after the book tour wound down, and now with QED…I replayed the section several times and shared the passage with some creative friends.

    In Douglass’ case –as I and many of my friends do– he’d write new speeches, schedule another tour but the audiences weren’t always as keen on his new lectures…they wanted the greatest hit: his escape from bondage. He’d moved on and tired of that story. It was all so relatable and interesting that I wish he were here today to write a book about *that*.

    Anyway, it’s a very long read and a good one and I’m glad to have gotten to know an important figure in American history in a more personal way.

    Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey by A.J. Jacobs – I had read his book “It’s All Relative” since history/genetics/genealogy interests me. I enjoyed his humor and learned a bit so I decided to try out two of his other books. I have found all of his books are breezy and easy reads. His premises remind me of my friend Mark Malkoff who has filmed stunts like visiting every Starbucks in NYC in one day, having strangers carry him across Manhattan, living in an Ikea, etc. This book was just about gratitude. Be thankful. Okay. Will do. Next.

    The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A. J. Jacobs – In this book, Jacobs attempts to follow the Bible to the letter by taking everything literally. Most sane people agree this isn’t possible or even what the Bible is meant to be, and it’s not far into the book that even the non-sane people would agree. But he isn’t here to make fun of anyone’s beliefs. He’s fair and patient while keeping it light-hearted while not shying from pointing out some of the more outdated and ridiculous rules about punishment for crimes, mixed fabrics, dietary restrictions, etc. He also asks a question that I have wondered, “How can any woman belong to anything that’s so expressly sexist?” Some of the women I see around NYC are trapped in a cult parading as tradition, in my opinion. And that tradition/religion is dead-set on keeping women subservient.

    Jacobs was raised Jewish but is agnostic. I was raised without religion really but with heavy-handed doses of crazy, evangelical, speaking-in-tongues, divine healing nonsense shoved down my throat by Dad’s relatives who were frantically trying to brainwash me during my short summer vacations on the Crews farm. Time was of the essence, ya know? Rapture was imminent, after all.

    In the end Jacobs remains agnostic as do I. He learned what good people already know: Life is sacred, be kind.

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    August 2019 Booklist

    Know Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth by Mika Brzezinski – I read this in June or July and forgot to put it on my post and didn’t include it in my little cover collage. An indictment on how well I enjoyed this book? Perhaps a little. It was fine. Pretty basic stuff about negotiating and making demands, stuff I’ve read or heard before. If I were back in the corporate world vs owning my own business this would come in handy as a nice refresher. I did recommend it to a young woman who was complaining about work as she’d just found out she was making considerably less than her male peers, some of whom started after her. Same old song and dance. She was contemplating her next move. This book is exactly what someone in her shoes would need right now. The basics, in a quick, relatable format as a kick in the pants to get what’s rightfully hers.

    Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Eric Foner – He was the professor for my Civil War and Reconstruction classes at Columbia, so naturally I wanted to read his book. He was also the main champion for the creation of the Reconstruction Era National Park. It was all a bit redundant from my studies which goes to say what a great instructor he is and how thorough his lectures were that I felt like I already knew everything. But it all bears repeating. This is the stuff that needs to be taught in schools. The book expired before I finished it, though, so I feel a little guilty for not reading the whole thing. But…hey! I already studied for almost 2 years with the guy. Too often Reconstruction is thought of the work of incompetent black politicians and carpetbagger Yankees lining their pockets. But from this period came the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments and so much more.
    A quote from Prof. Foner in an article re: the monument in the NY Times: “This was a pivotal moment in history that really changed the Constitution, and changed the definition of American citizenship, which, in parentheses, is really under attack right now,” Prof. Foner said. “It really began the process of making African-Americans equal members of American society.” I’m super excited to go see Prof. Foner at the NY Historical Society where he’ll be discussing his latest book which is also about Reconstruction, though I’m not sure I’ll read it. Shhhh…

    Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson – Really enjoyed his first book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck so got on the waitlist for this one. I finished this in one day. Super short and engaging. I really do like his style, even with all the unnecessary cursing which I know turns people off. He had a huge chunk on how to start your own religion which was really interesting to me as I have been toying with the idea of a solo show about my “god” David Lee Roth and how religion and who we look to for guidance is all circumstantial but also follows all the same patterns, just wearing a different fabric. This book was less about giving advice from his perspective of experience and more about examples and studies throughout history. One example he cited a case study found in Descartes’ Error by Antonio Damasio about man “Elliot” whose brain surgery resulted in leaving him completely without empathy. Feelings are essential to a balanced way of life. This exact case study was featured in another book I recently read (wish I remember exactly which one). Clearly Damasio’s research had some impact on authors I read and he has a healthy list of published books, so I’ve added him to my “to read” list. Back to Manson. It’s such a quick read, I’d recommend it for that reason alone.
    What’s not to lose? He also reiterates one of my biggest takeaways from his first book: With commitment comes freedom. I’ll quote:

    “Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous. Commitment gives you freedom because it hones your attention and focus, directing them toward what is most efficient at making you healthy and happy. Commitment makes decision-making easier and removes any fear of missing out; knowing that what you already have is good enough, why would you ever stress about chasing more, more, more again? Commitment allows you to focus intently on a few highly important goals and achieve a greater degree of success than you otherwise would.”

    Before We Were Yours: A Novel by Lisa Wingate – Apparently this is based on real events so, truthfully, I would have preferred to read a non-fiction book about this. I always prefer fact over fiction. That said, I didn’t know that going in. My library app recommended this one to me (algorthmsm and A.I. have me pegged), and I bit. Alternating between events from the 1930s* to present day*, it follows the story of some poor swamp boat kids who are taken into custody (kidnapped, truthfully) and given up for adoption in spite of having a family (past) and a lawyer daughter, her senator father who is battling cancer and his mother who has Alzheimer’s and is in a nursing home (present). It’s really lovely. I enjoyed this very much and the author did provide some factual information and recommended reading about the real-life woman, Georgia Tann, who operated the black market adoption ring. Not sure that I’ll read more about it…the book did a fine job of educating me and I’m familiar with the stories in the news. Definitely recommend this one.

    *Hmmm, is this a trend? A lot of books do this, including my own memoir! I do like the device, just noticing it a lot lately)

    It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree by A.J. Jacobs – Another book that I got when I thought I would expand the QED bookstore. It touched off all the right bells for me (mixed metaphor, I’m sure) with genealogy, history, what constitutes “family” and the revolution of DNA.

    I’m cracking up at this book but also devouring all the fun facts. He’s got a really snappy, witty writing style so it’s a really fun read. I’m going to gift this to my mom or sister-in-law for sure. I think they’d both like it but also this is just to see if they read my posts. 😀 I reserved a few of his other titles based on his style alone and not on the subject material (God is one, don’t remember the other).

    Comedy Sex God by Pete Holmes – I met Pete and his first wife just days after they’d moved to NYC. It’s nice to see him happy and enjoying success. I always get the audiobook version of comedians’ memoirs so I can hear their delivery, cadence and, well, just to hear their voice again. It’s always weird to hear about people and places during which I was there. He mentions my former assistant at Comix several times and my husband. “Christian Finnegan got me to stop wearing my cell phone in a soft, clear plastic case I clipped on to my belt with two words: ‘Belt clip’?”

    Holmes grew up in a fairly strict Christian household which stunted his sexual maturity, so there’s lots of the “sex” from the title. It touches on his trajectory in comedy, and I laughed hard and out loud a few times at times. The book is only lightly about comedy, though. Much of it is about his evolution from this sheltered Christian kid who judged others and denied himself to a young husband and comedian whose wife leaves him to an atheist to this matured, spiritual version of himself who is enlightened thanks to the help of gurus Ram Dass & Maharaji. It gets a little hippy dippy with talk of psychedelics, spirituality, and “what is *this*?” that we’re experiencing, but in a good way (in my opinion). I see some negative reviews wish he’d just stuck to talking about his comedy and sex life, but I found his journey away from and finding god and not being ashamed of it all to be quite thought provoking. Plus I’ve had my fill of comedy and sex talk. 😜

    Two things that kept cropping up in my mind after finishing the book:

    1) A funny analogy that I appreciated has Jesus of Nazareth on the football field running an amazing kick off return all the way to the 25 yard line. But then he’s tackled and the ball is fumbled and YOU are suddenly on the field holding the ball with Jesus screaming at you to “GO! GO!” Instead of running, you put the ball down to clap and celebrate his incredible return. Pete says, “Dude, you’re supposed to run with the ball. Yes, worship, celebrate, sure. Fine. But get on with it. He showed you the plays…don’t just celebrate his ascension, get to ascending yourself. Go and do likewise.”

    2) Pete shares this insight from Barry Taylor, the road manager for AC/DC, who said, “God is the name of the blanket we throw over the mystery to give it shape.”
    An exasperated Pete says, “Come on! Shouldn’t I have heard this in church? Why am I hearing this from the road manager for AC/DC?!” 🤣

    The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – Historical fiction and a riveting, gorgeous piece of writing. While it is historical, it’s also a bit fantastical imagining the underground railroad as a literal one built by slaves with rails and conductors and engineers operating underground. But I’ve read my share of slave narratives and studied so much of the Civil War and Reconstruction era to know that the extreme violence and nightmarish situations weren’t pure fiction. I’m always struck by how casually horrific acts violence were carried out. I was so invested in the heroine Cora’s escape from slavery and the pitfalls and traumas she sustained along the way that I found myself staying up later to finish chapters and missed my subway stop. Terrific read.

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    July 2019 Booklist

    The Stranger by Albert Camus – A French classic from 1946 which I bought and read in one sitting back in 1998 or 1999. Cracked it open for another read as I really don’t remember why I bought it then or really anything about it. It’s a slim book and easy read. The main character Meursault is an apathetic atheist who goes along with things in detached, unemotional ways and says exactly what he’s thinking without regard for how others might feel or perceive things. He’s a bit divorced from reality. He strikes me as being on the autism spectrum. The 2nd half of the book is where it gets a little more existential, though Camus rejected the claim that his book was about existentialism. So…anyway, it’s good. It’s easy. It makes you think if you allow it.

    Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis – I read this because it’s like a crazy top bestseller and was looking to branch out on the types of books QED carries. I didn’t really know what it was about other than a little self-helpy and those do well at QED.

    But, man, people are NOT fans of hers and people who love her, reallllly love her. Her critics call her self-absorbed and disingenuous, living a sheltered life with only one intimate life partner, with no real struggles and that her advice is downright dangerous (she’s not an expert in mental health, domestic violence, etc.) and some of it is simply regurgitated from other writers. She’s pretty, white, rich, has a nanny, etc. and there are more important, valued women writers whose voices are more worth listening to.

    Her fans will say she *has* gone through things and is sharing her honest perspective based on her own experiences.

    I can see both sides and am glad I didn’t read the reviews before diving in to this book, because I did enjoy it in spite of catching on to some of those criticisms (The faux “y’all” dialect drives me bonkers, for example…you are not southern, girl. Just stop. It’s an attempt to sound hip and casual and regular.) As I’ve said before re: going to seminars or workshops and reading self-help books, etc.: If I learn as little as one thing, it is worth it. The one takeaway I got from this was that if I make plans with myself (write, paint, exercise, whatever it is…) and then bail on those plans, what kind of friend am I to myself? Would I stay friends with someone who was constantly reneging on plans? No. So why do I do that to myself? Also, this sets up patterns and expectations so that when the plan is made, I already know I’ll bail. Good advice. Whether it comes originally from her or not, I got it and made a note to myself.

    Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe – A very detailed account of “The Troubles” in Ireland. I recall as a young kid being frightened and confused by news reports, but could not tell you really what it was all about. This book was suggested as a true crime story — the mysterious disappearance of a widowed mother of 10– occurs during these times. As it turns out, it’s mostly a freakishly detailed historical account of The Troubles themselves. Some reviews have been critical by saying the author doesn’t present a balanced view of events between the paramilitary IRA groups and the British loyalists and army. I also wish there were more personal interviews and accounts and less transcription of fact after fact after fact. It got pretty exhaustive and redundant. But, hey, now I know more today than I did yesterday and that’s all thanks to the reporting in this book.

    Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – There’s a super long waitlist for this book so it’s the hit of the summer, I’d say. It’s a look at the whole species of us from gamillions of years ago to today.

    From the publisher: One hundred thousand years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens. How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations, and human rights; to trust money, books, and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables, and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come? 

    I found it interesting and really enjoyed how most things like corporations, religion, the USA and its constitution, etc., all require us to use our imagination and collectively agree that these things are real even though we completely made them up. Religious fanatics will probably hate that, but it’s all fascinating to me.

    The Witch’s Daughter: A Novel by Paula Brackston – This is the 2nd book of hers that I’ve read. The first being The Little Shop of Found Things: A Novel which I reviewed last month (or the month before?). I loved that one likening it to Outlander (which I don’t watch; I’ve seen bits of one episode, and apparently it’s very good). Anyway, like the Little Shop book, this one goes back and forth between the past and present and has witchcraft/supernatural elements mixed in with some historical fiction. Here, the main character who practices as an herbalist in present day, befriends a teenager and mentors her about herbs and spells. Along the way she tells her a tale. In doing so, we are transported in time to three separate eras. I won’t spoil anything, just know that it’s filled with some pretty intense sexual violence and gets pretty bonkers so might not be for everyone. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the 1st book of hers I read but did still like it, mainly because it’s so fantastical it helps take my mind off the very real stuff of work and family.

    Milkman: A Novel – It’s December 2019 and I just realized I had read this book and forgotten that I had. Went through my history and didn’t even add it to my reading list / reviews. So, I guess I didn’t really enjoy it that much…so forgettable? But my friends and critics love it so maybe I read it too quickly or was distracted. I do remember it being after “Say Nothing” which had exhausted me on IRA paramilitary stuff.

    Alright, so that was July! I went to the Grand Canyon at the end of the month and gearing up for the trip had me focused more on that than reading. I don’t really enjoy reading books on planes I’ve come to realize. Magazines, crosswords, documentaries and news articles are more my jam, so I indulged in all of that during my travels.

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    June 2019 Booklist

    A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold – The families of murderers (or attempted ones, like mine) grieve and suffer lasting consequences, too. It’s not often you hear their stories from this perspective. Sue Klebold, mother of one of the two boys behind the murders at Columbine, has written hers. There is some enlightening information and useful resources regarding mental illness and suicide.

    I wish there had been something about gun laws, though she does discuss how media can produce copy cats and blueprints for the next shooter. She says she saw no signs of the impending massacre, but there were signs that her son was struggling with a “brain illness” (she prefers this term over “mental illness”) or other issues and so it was hard not to pass judgment on how she was either checked out or glossing over some facts. Regardless, her grief is real and deep and my heart goes out to her. Her lasting legacy –no matter what good she does in the world– will always include the caveat that she raised a boy who chose to massacre his classmates and a teacher in his suicide bid. That extraordinary burden could drive many to dark places. I’m very glad she is giving back and rising above and sharing her story.

    The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson – I had no idea there was a sort of cult obsession with this murder case of the late 1800s until I went to find the link for the book to include here. Whoa! The options of books & movies overwhelms! This one was new and recommended by my library, I like crime and history, and the cover is delicious. So, that’s how I ended up reading this one over all the others.

    Lizzie became the OJ Simpson/Casey Anthony of her time when she was arrested and tried for the murder of her father and stepmother. The crime was a “locked door” mystery that has never been solved. There are many theories that have been espoused over the decades. This book covers the crimes and the trial and doesn’t speculate. Though the author does mention other theories that have sprung up and the whys and wherefores. She also includes evidence and sidebars that the jury never heard.

    Of particular interest to me was how a pail of bloody cloth (presumably used menstrual rags), a small bloodstain on the underside of her skirt and other blood evidence was treated. Men couldn’t bring themselves to review that sort of evidence and, of course, it was an all male judge, jury and prosecutor (women could not serve on juries in Massachusetts until 1950. NINETEEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY!) so the horror of a woman’s monthly cycle was ignored and the blood was insinuated to be proof of her guilt of an axe murder. There was also some question of her mental state due to her monthly flow. There was a prevailing opinion that women were susceptible of insanity and violence during menses. Oy. Anyway, all that was interesting. Had I realized the great wealth of books on the subject, I might have had trouble choosing. I’m not entirely sure this one would have been my choice, either. But it is all well researched and thoughtfully laid out. I enjoyed it.

    The jury made their decision and there were no appeals. So, did she or didn’t she? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

    Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson – Powerful. This book is an important testimony to how deeply unfair and brutal criminal law and punishment can be. Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and has devoted his life to helping the poor, young, mentally ill and wrongfully convicted navigate the cruel, racist and inhumane criminal justice system. At several points I was full on sobbing; wailing and grief-stricken for everyone involved in the cases laid out in this incredible book. I was particularly anguished at the execution of one inmate Herbert Richardson, and for who and what we are as a human race. Stevenson has gained every ounce of my respect. I am awed by his tireless commitment to his life’s work and will be the first to line up for the movie of his life. It can and should be made. What an inspiration.

    An Anonymous Girl: A Novel by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen – This was much needed junk food after some intense reads. I rolled my eyes hard more than a few times reading this and yet didn’t stop thinking about it and was enjoying it all play out. I had read the first book by this pair, The Wife Between Us, and enjoyed their writing. Both books are classified as a mystery but, no, I totally disagree. They are character studies and there is some slight intrigue and psychological thriller-y aspects to both. But this one was just some good fast food before I dove back into some history and true crime.

    The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson – I *should* love this book. It’s filled with history (the Chicago World’s Fair and the architects behind it) and murder (a serial killer preys on victims). Even though it’s the Chicago fair, I love reading about them since my borough of Queens has hosted two. I’ve even owned a beautifully framed Chicago World’s Fair poster for almost 25 years. But this book doesn’t do it for me. This was actually my 2nd time trying to read it. The first time I gave up before I was even 1/3 of the way through. This time I slogged through but it was, indeed, a slog. Way too much about the architectural plans and construction hiccups, longer than it needed to be and cuts to the juicy chase way too late in the book. Apparently Leo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese are teaming up to tell the story (A film or series? Not sure.) and I will give that a go because the subjects *do* interest me.

    My Year of Rest & Relaxation: A Novel by Ottessa Moshfegh – This is a fictionalized account of a total twat. Amusing and well written. I was disappointed overall, mostly because there was no real growth for the main character. Okay, sure she was clinically depressed and self medicating and by the end of her year is no longer doing that. So, growth? But the author invoking 9/11? Nah. You lost me. I’d rather it be a memoir or some other non-fiction so at least there can be some growth or redemption or lesson. If Or, if it’s gonna be fiction, then something like “Fleabag” where the main character is an asshole but it pays off. I totally recommend Fleabag instead. A few times it felt like the book’s main point was to serve as a pop culture snapshot of what NYC was like in the early aughts and before 9/11. It could be that I’m too close to the source material and so any time a date was mentioned I recalled where I was and knew where we were headed. I’m really curious as to why this is such a hit. It *is* well written and the unabashed asshole-ish nature of the main character is fun at times, but I don’t get it.

    A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation by David W. Blight Ph. D. – Part biography and part first-person narratives of two men, John Washington and Wallace Turnage, who escaped slavery to freedom in the years before and during the Civil War. The narratives by Washington and Turnage are rare and extraordinary. Turnage was cunning, daring and brave beyond measure and his account is more detailed on the numerous failed escape attempts that led to his eventual freedom. Washington’s was more intimate in recounting his deep loss and longing for love, home and family. I shook and sobbed at his recounting being separated from his mother who had been hired away. The night before, she came to his bed. “Her tears mingled with mine amid kisses and heart felt sorrow … I would rather die” than leave her. That trauma is what gave him the steely resolve to escape.

    I bookmarked this line by Blight speculating on why these two men chose to write: “Perhaps they could never quite realize their tomorrow, until they had told the story of their yesterday.” <3

    As someone who has written a memoir, that quote and this one by author Richard Rodriguez on reasons why former fugitive slaves turned to 1st-person narrative struck a chord. “Autobiography seems to me appropriate to anyone who has suffered some startling change, a two-life lifetime. To anyone who has been able to marvel at the sharp change in his life. ‘I was there once and now my god I am here. Was blind but now I see.'”
    That is exactly why I had wanted to write my story so many years ago. Indeed I underwent a startling change and lived a two-life (or more) lifetime well before I was 30 and a few more since then.

    A small complaint on the editing / layout choice of the book: Blight prefaces the narratives with each man’s life history and genealogical information which was a bit of a spoiler and takes away the power of their own words. I think I’d have rather read their personal accounts first and *then* had a summary or historical timeline as to what became of them and their families. Or maybe have the biographical notes mixed throughout. Their narratives seemed a little tacked on. Of course, due to the nature of the subject, the narratives still carry so much emotion and importance no matter where in the book they land.

    Editing choices aside, this book should be studied in schools and is a treasure.

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    May 2019 Booklist

    May fared much better for my library choices. Besides some great books review below, I saw some live theater: “Tootsie” on Broadway and my friend David Crabb’s new solo show he’s workshopping “Us & Them & Me & You”. Throw in the final season of “Game of Thrones” (I enjoyed it. Take that!), season two of “Fleabag” on Amazon (💖), “Dead to Me” on Netflix (so good!), and some excellent documentaries (“Knock Down the House”, “Three Identical Strangers” and “Perfect Bid”) and my head and heart are full. On to the books!

    Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro – Read this in one sitting. True, it’s on the shorter side, so not *that* impressive of a feat, but it was fascinating enough that I flew through it. Shapiro was already a well-known author so when she discovered through a DNA test that the father she knew and loved was not, in fact, her biological father of course she had the makings of another book. As a writer, storyteller and producer, I can’t help but think she was secretly thinking, “Cha-ching!” Cynical, I know, but I’d put a hefty wager on it. Regardless, her entire foundation was shaken and the mystery to solve it would unveil more than just a name. It also brought up larger questions: What is identity? What matters most in nature vs. nurture? What ethical dilemmas do we face with regard to DNA, sperm donation, adoptions, etc.? So much to contemplate and I very much appreciated the author for making me take time to reflect and consider.

    The Witch Elm: A Novel by Tana French – I’ve read a few of her books now. This newly published one wasn’t my favorite. It started out strong but … I don’t know… it didn’t captivate me. Overly long, not much action, soooooo much dialogue between unlikable characters. She departed from her usual Murder Squad characters and it just was a lot of work to get through this. I’d read her other books for sure. This one missed the mark for me.

    In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – Stunning. I have watched several movie versions of the book and of Truman Capote’s life. Each time, it was a challenge to get through it emotionally intact. It’s very powerful and close to home in many ways. There’s enough time between me and the movies and my dad’s crimes to delve in again. I’m glad I did. If you aren’t familiar with the story, In Cold Blood is a “nonfiction novel” about the murder of the Clutter family in Kansas in the late 50s. There’s a letter from Perry’s sister Barbara written to Perry while he’s in prison but before his trial that I want to copy and paste and mail to my dad. I’m going to go to the library to borrow a print copy to do just that. Word for word for word she says all the things I’ve wanted to say to Dad. Brilliant and blunt.

    The Little Shop of Found Things: A Novel by Paula Brackston – The library suggested this for fans of “Outlander”. I don’t watch that TV show but my mom loves it and I hear that it’s interesting. I peeked in on an episode Mom was watching and it was so cheesy and outlandish (sorry) but filled with historical tidbits that kept grabbing my attention. “Nah, I’ll watch a documentary instead, thanks.” Well, this book was great. I was my friend Sue’s ride to the hospital and stayed in the waiting room during her surgery and as she was waking up and flew through about 1/2 the book during that time. It’s so far afield from anything I read (Supernatural psychic stuff and time travel?! Get real!) but it contains two things I love: mystery and history. I enjoyed the heck out of it and will recommend it to my mom, sister-in-law and nieces and will definitely look into her other titles.

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    April 2019 Booklist

    April was frustrating due to a lack of my top “to read” books not being available from my library. So, some of these were a little different for me both good and bad.

    Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow – How can I have read Grant and Hamilton and *not* read Chernow’s other notable biography? So, here we go with Washington. I was surprised and delighted about how much I already knew of the Revolutionary War, his presidency, and personal relationships. That’s what a deep dive into Hamilton did for me, I guess. Of course it was well written and incredibly researched –it’s Chernow! Good, thorough and is a really long history lesson. Not Chernow’s most compelling story but I’d venture to say that’s due to the subject matter and my exhaustion of the same, since I found Grant RIVETING. Anyway. I read it. It’s good.

    Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit – This one is super short and a little outdated due to the political news cycle being on jacked up on meth right now. I grabbed it because I’m a fan of her writing and she updated it with a new foreword. Plus, there was nothing else at the library. She wrote it post-Bush, Jr.’s election in 2004 as a way to encourage hope. Yikes. Past-Solnit has no clue what’s in store. Truthfully, I skimmed it so quickly because I’m just too angry and concerned about the direction of things in our country and kept thinking how quaint the issues of the early aughts seem in comparison. I’d mumble to myself, “Buckle up, buttercup.” That said, there are lots of quotable bits of wisdom about hope (click here to read through them on GoodReads.com. One of my favorites: “Inside the word “emergency” is “emerge”; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” Overall, it did inspire me to hang in there & keep fighting the good fight.

    Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America by Russell Shorto – It’s a riveting tale that reads like a movie. Gripping drama filled with rich details. If you’re interested in NYC, colonial history, or the Dutch, it’s a must read. This is a 2nd reading for me. The first was back in July 2018 right after I discovered my Dutch roots. My maternal great grandmother Ola Mae Newkirk is descended from the original van Nieuwkirks of Midwout (n/k/a Flatbush, Brooklyn) and Wiltwyck (n/k/a Kingston, NY). Newkirk Avenue and Newkirk Plaza in Brooklyn? Named after my 8th great grandfather. Bam! Since then, I’ve discovered my 9th great grandparents were kind of a big deal in the New Netherland colony of Wiltwyck and are all over the history books and memorialized in the Old Dutch Church in Kingston. I’ve learned so much more in the last year so thought it worthwhile to go back and read again with my new knowledge.

    Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto – I’m still on my history kick and am going all in on learning about my Dutch ancestral roots. Shorto is a terrific writer and historian and I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the Brooklyn Historical Society. I didn’t think I’d enjoy reading about a city I’ve never even visited, but I so enjoyed his book Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America that I read it twice. Did you know Amsterdam had the first stock exchange? I didn’t! I learned quite a bit about its history, wars, artists (Vermeer and Rembrandt, of course), tolerance and progressive views that clearly helped shape New York City before the English took over.

    On a side note re: Shorto: I’m going to take a class of his to focus my attention on writing historical non-fiction to see if I have any lasting interest or talents there. I’ve got some major ADD when it comes to my projects outside of QED and hope a class might keep me on track. And, if I lose interest in the class or struggle with the research, then I can be assured that my fascination with my Dutch ancestry will be nothing more than a hobby. But right now, I’m having trouble shaking loose the niggling thoughts of “What if this story is worth telling and *I* don’t get to be the one to tell it?”

    She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer – I feel terrible adding books that I don’t enjoy let alone don’t finish. But I did spend quite a bit of time *trying* to get into this one and want to bookmark it for the future in case time and circumstances allow me to try it again. It sounded fascinating regarding heredity and genetics and family stuff but so much of the early chapters was spent on the extraordinary minutia of chromosomes and genomes and tinkering with sheep to create merino wool and zzz zzz sheep zzz zzz. There’s no doubt there is an audience for this book. The praise is effusive. Have any of you read it? If so, should I take another stab?

    On to May where my booklist will hopefully be less redundant.

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    March 2019 Booklist

    Grant by Ron Chernow (Biography) – Sobbed when I finished it the first time. Sobbed again even harder this third time. It only took me a full month to get through it this time. 🙂  I know it’s a long book, but I think Section 3 which covers post-Civil War Reconstruction should be required reading. I’m certain this will be made into a movie or mini-series and I will be the first one to line up to see it. Meanwhile, this has officially surpassed Les Miserables by Victor Hugo as my all-time favorite book. I’m obsessed with Grant’s legacy, how it was tarnished by racist revisionists and how it is making a comeback much in part thanks to Chernow. A very, very thorough and riveting read.

    You All Grow Up and Leave Me: : A Memoir of Teenage Obsession by Piper Weiss (Memoir/True Crime) – A quick read about an obsessive middle-aged man who coached tennis to young girls attending various prestigious Manhattan prep schools in the early 90s. The author was one of those students and this is her coming-of-age story which coincides with the coach’s failed attempt to kidnap one of his teenage students. It’s about the trust we put in the institutions and adults that mentor our children 

    BlacKKKlansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime by Ron Stallworth (Memoir) – I saw and thoroughly enjoyed the movie directed by Spike Lee and so wanted to support the author by reading his story in the original form. I’m particularly interested because, of course, I hope my own memoir will be turned into a movie one day.

    Anyway, the author, the first black officer and detective on the Colorado Springs police force. He oversaw an undercover operation to expose KKK activity even becoming a member and having lengthy phone conversations with the then Grand Wizard David Duke. It’s all wild and fantastically improbable the way real life often is. After so much history about the Civil War and Reconstruction, it was nice to have some deeper understanding about the roots of modern racism and the historical references made.

    Spike Lee’s version is very true to the book so there was a part of me that felt like reading the book was a little bit of a waste of my time. Eep! I hate typing that but there are so many books, movies and shows to read and enjoy that in the future I will pick one version, enjoy it and move on. That said, the book was great. The movie was great. I enjoyed both thoroughly and am so glad his story was told.

    Sullivan County’s Borscht Belt (NY) (Images of America) by Irwin Richman – A collection of old picture postcards that is fun to flip through with little notes here and there about each area but lacking in genuine historical research or text. It makes me think I could easily turn my little vintage postcard project into a book, too.

    American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer – Well. It’s a dark hole I climb into when I contemplate the prison system and what it does to people. I feel like I’ve been rode hard and put away wet. This book is two in one. First, it’s a deep dive into the history of the modern prison labor system and how it is the ugly offspring of slavery. Second, Bauer went undercover at a private prison in Louisiana and this is an unsettling exposé of his experience. Chapters alternate between present day and past and they are equally disturbing and disheartening. 
    ~~~~

    Any suggestions for April reading? I’d love to hear them!

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    February 2019 Booklist

    Unwifeable: A Memoir by Mandy Stadtmiller – I’ve known Mandy since right before she moved to NYC in the early 2000s, so of course I had to read her book! It’s a riveting read in which she bares it all in a raw honesty that is so admirable. The “all” that she bares is her very heavy drinking, some drug use, a lot of risky sexual encounters. Her late 20s /early 30s sounded a little too familiar. I so appreciate that over any sugar coating or glossing over of reality any day. Since she was a reporter for the New York Post and contributed to Page Six, there’s also lots of name dropping and gossip related to the comedy and media scene. It’s so strange to read such a personal account of stuff that was happening parallel to me, sometimes in the same circle. It had me riveted and I flew through the pages.

    Her “rage blackouts” were also familiar to me. I was so angry at everyone and everything for my childhood, family and the feeling of being boxed in and not able to rise above or live up to my potential that I had these episodes. Thankfully they are in the rearview with only a stressful, more manageable and less scary flareup now and again.  

    I’d definitely recommend this to my sober friends or anyone who has wondered if they have a drinking problem. 

    Becoming by Michelle Obama (Memoir) – I cried so many times while reading this, not from her words or life, really, but in grief for what we had as a nation, what we have lost and what we now have to overcome. It’s a long book and often not too exciting but still engaging. It’s a telling of an ordinary life that became extraordinary to use a quote of her own. I found myself giggling and squirming when it came time for her to meet Barack and their subsequent romance. 😍 😍 😍 

    I’m glad to have gotten to know her through her book. To be honest, though, she treats a lot of stuff with so much grace and diplomacy, it’s clear she’s holding back. She is true to form: going high when others go low. She’s certainly an inspiration and I’m so grateful for the sacrifices she made (private life, career, family time, etc.) in order to serve our country as an admirable, intelligent and kind First Lady. 

    Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore by Dave Hill (Memoir) – This is another friend’s book that I’ve wanted to read for too long, and one that I sell at QED. This is actually his second book of essays. His first, Tasteful Nudes, is also for sale at QED, but I chose to listen to the audiobook version of this one first. 

    I’ve know Dave casually for almost as long as I’ve been in New York. Since opening QED, Dave has produced a show here and there, and we’ve chatted more often. Recently I was on his podcast. His questions were thoughtful and we covered a lot of ground. We recorded in his apartment where I fell in love with his art collection. There were lots of pieces that inspired conversation and made me curious about his life and adventures. Thankfully, he has this handy book to help me do just that. 

    This collection is brimming with laughs delivered in his trademark dry, level and almost monotone cadence. But Dave surprised me with levels of sweetness and emotion. From the loss of his mother and his relationship with his aging father, it had me tearing up more than I expected. I fell into a YouTube hole after finishing his collection, wanting more of Dave’s life for myself. When you read this, I’m sure you’ll come away thinking as I did, that Dave is very smart, funny (duh!), talented, adventurous, kind and lovely. Thanks, Dave, for sharing your stories with me!

    Grant by Ron Chernow – Yeah, I’m reading it for a 3rd time, what of it?! I really wanted to re-read since I completed three semesters of Civil War and Reconstruction online at Columbia. Several week’s worth of study on the Dred-Scott decision, was mentioned in just one line in the book. It’s nice to understand that decision fully and the reference in the book without distraction. I’ve already reviewed this book here and here, too. and will be listening to it for the rest of February as I travel through Texas so am gonna push publish on this entry. 

    Any suggestions for March reading? I’d love to hear them!

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    January 2019 Booklist

     

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    January 2019 Booklist

    As expected & planned, I’ve slowed down my reading for 2019 as compared to 2018 (82 books last year! Plus 3 semesters online w/ Columbia University! Plus soooo much genealogy reading and research!). But with shorter booklist my reviews are a little longer! My plan is to read at least 4 books a month. These are the four that I read in January:

    Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown – This book was published in 1970 and it squashed any romanticized versions of “how the West was won”. Chiefs Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Crazy Horse and others struggle to save their tribes, culture and identity. The brutality and obliteration is beyond heartbreaking. 

    After this past year of studying of the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement and New York’s early Dutch history, I can’t say I’m shocked at the heinous behavior of the white man. The Natives wanted to preserve their way of life and raise their families in peace. So simple, so pure and so easy, yet time and again, tribes are betrayed and massacred in the name of westward expansion, greed and the hubristic and absurd belief in Manifest Destiny. Such god awfulness. The greed and arrogance shown by white settlers is one thing, but the savage brutality, the inhumanity…it’s all revolting and shameful. It’s a bit exhaustive but an educational and enlightening read.

    Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (Thriller!) – A great palate cleanser from all the history, feminism and politics I’ve been immersing myself in over the last few months. I enjoyed the story about two extraordinarily bright and ambitious teen girls, bonded by a deep secret who then meet again later in life and drama ensues. It was a fast read and had me pacing and talking to myself saying things out loud like, “I can’t even stand it!” It’s inspired by a true story of Marie Robards profiled in Texas Monthly (Click here for that profile but be WARNED OF MAJOR spoilers!) but is definitely a work of fiction and not a true crime novel. I was bummed to see some of the top reviews on Amazon were negative. I really enjoyed the book and started questioning my taste! But there are plenty of other positive reviews and, hey, I still enjoyed it. It was much needed break from the heady stuff but still smart and engaging. 

    Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (Memoir) – Vance grew up as a poor hillbilly in Ohio and Kentucky with a lot of drug and alcohol use, raised by some classic characters found in any coming-of-age book about poor white trash. The young marriages, broken marriages, multiple marriages, etc. all added to him bouncing around and making do. While it’s a memoir, Hillbilly Elegy is also a study on class and poverty and a look into the lifelong consequences of adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s). The link is to a Google search result of scholarly articles on ACE’s. The clinical studies and tests are a worthwhile read if you have a few minutes.  

    This clinical look into the long-term outcomes of adolescent trauma through the lens of his childhood helped me get through the book a lot easier than had it been a straight memoir. Had it been the latter, it may have wrecked me. It all had a very familiar ring…a really loud clang on a bell that still has my ears ringing. 

    I bookmarked this quote:

    Kids who go through this lifestyle don’t lose contact with their parents because they don’t care, they lose contact to survive. They don’t stop loving or lose hope that their loved ones will change. Rather they are forced, either by wisdom or by law, to take the path of self-preservation. 

    Like the author, I carry around the baggage and wear the scars, both literal and figurative, of a chaotic family life. And, like, Vance, moved up and away to make a change, break the cycle and persevere which is, oh, so similar to preserve.

    Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond – This book covers the eviction process and housing from the view of tenants and landlords in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The author is a sociologist and immersed himself in his study, living in a trailer park and becoming entrenched with his subjects. A lot of government policy and law is covered.

    The housing system and laws, welfare, poverty and such might not sound like an interesting read, but it was a gripping tale and, damn, it’s relentless. Damn. The things we humans do to each other. One landlord could be labeled a slumlord the way she works the system in her favor. The laws all work to ensure than once evicted, it’s almost impossible to climb out and rise above. Again, I found myself appreciating all the court scenes, statistics and data to relieve me of the horrible pit of the memory of knowing what it feels like to have your home taken away, immediately and without any forewarning. To be told to pack your things from your childhood home –even if it was just a trailer, it was ours!– and move out in less than 24 hours. 

    It was the only book I had left on my list and I *did* want to read it, but on the heels of Hillbilly Elegy…it brought up a lot more painful childhood memories than I feel like I can withstand given all the awfulness in the world right now.  

    Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston – During my genealogy studies at the NYPL, I found a volume of books of first-person accounts by African-Americans about their experiences as slaves. “My god,” I whispered to Christian who was browsing nearby. “I can only imagine what horrors these books contain.” I made a mental note to go back and read some. There were at least 20 large, hardbound volumes and I haven’t found the name on the NYPLs site online, but I know exactly what shelf they’re on in the Milstein Division at the main branch for the next time I’m there on a rainy day.  UPDATE: A rainy day came and I found the 41-volume set titled The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography edited by George Rawick.

    In my quest to find the name of those volumes, I came across this new* book by Zora Neale Hurston in the words of a former slave named Cudjo Kazoola Lewis

    All these words from the seller, but not one word from the sold. The Kings and Captains whose words moved ships. But not one word from the cargo. The thoughts of the “black ivory,” the “coin of Africa,” had no market value. Africa’s ambassadors to the New World have come and worked and died, and left their spoor, but no recorded thought. ― Zora Neale Hurston

    In 1927, Hurston tracked down and visited Cudjo at his home in Alabama. Lewis, at around 86 years old, was the only known survivor of the last slave ship, the Clotilda, to arrive in the US. He came to be on the ship after his tribe was attacked and slaughtered by a group of female warriors. After he was captured, they held him captive in “barracoons” before he was auctioned off to a an American slave trader who brought him to America a full fifty years after international slave trading was outlawed. The domestic slave trade still thrived, of course.

    Hurston spent a few months drawing stories out of Cudjo. She used his African name Kazoola and brought him gifts of peaches, watermelon, time and patience. Cudjo was very poetic in his telling, but his story is distressing. 

    *Her manuscript was never published until last year. There were issues, it seems, with accusations of plagiarism which she remedied and supplied ample supporting documents. Also, this book is written as Cudjoe spoke, in dialect critics said played up black stereotypes. Hurston refused to change it and, apparently, that is why at least one other publisher turned down the manuscript. So, this “new” book is seeing the light now, and at a time when we need it most with an openly racist President fueling a hateful MAGA, white supremacy culture.

    Here’s a passage in which Lewis describes having spent several months with other disoriented and traumatized new slaves who had come to lean on each other only to be separated to toil on plantations:

    We very sorry to be parted from one ’nother. We seventy days cross de water from de Affica soil, and now dey part us from one ’nother. Derefore we cry. Our grief so heavy look lak we cain stand it. I think maybe I die in my sleep when I dream about my mama.

    It’s heart-rending to hear a first-hand account of the traumas he endured. From the attack on his tribe to becoming “cargo” and a slave so traumatized and confused and without a shared language with those around him, I wept and got angry and wept some more.

    Cudjo Lewis in later life (Erik Overbey Collection, The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama)

    After the Civil War, without reparations (he received nothing; no 40 acres and a mule) as payback for being kidnapped, taken from his country, enslaved and used up solely for profit, he and other Clotilda survivors raised and saved money and founded Africatown in Plateau, Alabama, where Ms. Hurston came to meet him. Lewis went on to outlive his children and wife, dying at the age of 94 or 95, a few years after telling his story to Hurston. I’m so glad I read this. I’m so glad his story lives on. I’m going to the library and making sure to get the names of the other volumes of stories and read as many as time allows.

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    December 2018 Reading List

    Four books for December puts me at 82 books read for 2018*. I’m unlikely to match this pace for 2019 but ya never know. I read a lot of really great books, learned more about American history this year than I ever did in all my years combined, became politically active and a card-carrying feminist. Thank you to the New York Public Library, Queens Library and Ramapo Catskill Library System for the tremendous year.

    I’ll be snagging this nifty “Knowledge is Power” card during my regular visit to the NYPL’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. God I love that place. How did I not become a librarian? I turned my bedroom in my trailer into a fully functional library! I was a library aide at Montgomery Elementary School! I own a card catalog! 

    (*Plus one in progress and one I did not finish but those don’t count!)

    Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward – Part of me wondered why I’d want to read this given that we’re still currently living under this madman’s rule. But the larger part of me said that this is history in the making and I want to better understand and fully inform myself as much as possible. Trump is so ill-qualified and everyone around him seems to know it and yet are powerless or unwilling to stop him. Electoral college aside, time and the American voter will handle it unless he kills us first or Mueller and other investigations beat us to it. 

    The Axeman of New Orleans: The True Story by Miriam C. Davis – A recounting of a string of axe murders and attacks in New Orleans in the early 20th Century. It was all bloody and terribly and though two men were tried and convicted it remains unsolved. It reminded me of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara in that I was exhausted by the details of brutal crime after brutal crime all with no solution at the end. Of course in the latter case the Golden State Killer was caught after the book’s publication. In the case of the Axeman, he’ll go through history like a Jack the Ripper, leaving a legacy of fear, pain and injustice. Because it will remain unsolved (no DNA evidence exists) and the crimes all bled together, I found myself more intrigued by how each crime was investigated and the legal proceedings which led to two men being wrongly convicted.

    Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott – A terrific narrative of four* women who served their causes (the Confederacy or the Union, depending on which story you follow)

    *Elizabeth Van Lew operated a spy ring for the Union while living in the Deep South much to the anger of her neighbors. But much of her information was aided by her slave Mary Jane Bowers who Elizabeth sent to live with and work for Jefferson Davis. That Mary Jane’s story is not more highlighted is not surprising as an enslaved person of color their stories often became secondary, but it is as remarkable as Van Lew’s. So it should be 5 women. Bowers also “disappeared” after 1867 —no further records can be found of her— so she was not around to help propel her story the way that two of the others did — one going on to write a memoir and perform in shows around the country.

    Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister – She’s the eminent and prolific feminist writer of this current generation it seems. She can pump out the books faster than I can read them! That said, there was a lot of redundancy in this book and her book “Big Girls Don’t Cry” which I’d read only last month about Hillary Clinton’s bid for the nomination during the 2002 Presidential primaries and the VP nomination of Sara Palin. While recent history is worth discussing, reflecting on and learning more about, it seems Traister has tapped the well of history from the 1st and 2nd waves of feminism. That said, I will continue to buy and read everything she writes. She’s smart and thorough in her coverage and since we are still fighting the same exact fights, it’s worth drudging up the past over and over and over again until we fix things!

    Click here to read my November Booklist (3*)
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    *There were some months where I watched documentaries instead like the phenomenal Eyes on the Prize (PBS). I also read lots of historical and reference books that didn’t actually make it to my list and I completed two semesters (online) studying the Civil War and Reconstruction at Columbia with Professor Eric Foner. A banner year, indeed! 

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    November 2018 Reading List

    The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs – Riggs was the great, great, great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson and a poet herself which shows on occasion in her lyrically writing. In her final work, Riggs covers her experience living and dying from metastatic breast cancer while raising two small boys, dealing with her mother’s cancer. I was hoping for some insight into how I’m feeling now that my cancer is (hopefully) in the rearview. Answers to larger questions on the meaning of life because right now, frankly, I don’t see the point. Instead it’s more of a personal account of regular, everyday life but with cancer, pain and loss. Her writing is lovely and it’s terribly sad that she died so young and her sons lost their mother. An awful tragedy, and I’m glad she has this legacy to leave them. It did touch on some things covered in Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End which I’d read earlier this year. That book is about quality of life during the end days and, while more clinical, I found the frankness about death and dying very comforting and valuable. 

    Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women by Rebecca Traister – All about the 2008 presidential primaries and election. Knowing what the future holds gave me some different perspective as I read about Hillary Clinton’s loss to Barack Obama and Sarah Palin’s Vice Presidential run with John McCain. Oh, the good ol’ days. I’d forgotten about how much attention had been paid to Clinton’s clothes and how she showed some cleavage. (Oh my stars!) I also had to accept that, while I’m definitely no fan of Palin, having a woman on the ballot is still a good thing for women in general. 

    Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World by David Brion Davis – An epic review of slavery, abolition, uprisings, sexual exploitation, classical and biblical roots, Haitian and Brazilian revolts, the emergence of African-American culture, and on and on and on. If you only read one book on the history of slavery, this would be the one I’d recommend. It’s sweeping and comprehensive, not too long and covers a lot of territory. I was particularly interested in and enlightened by the Haitian revolution (I’ve added The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution to my “To Read” list) and England’s not-so-altruistic reasons for the abolition of slavery. An excellent history lesson and a must-read, in my opinion.

    The Roosevelts documentary by Ken Burns –  Not a book, but an in depth and worthy documentary that I wanted to note for myself. I enjoyed this during my travels to New Mexico and back to NYC from Arizona. The long plane rides flew by in a flash thanks to this excellent documentary. I had watched it some years ago but really enjoyed it more the 2nd time around now that I’m more educated on NYC history. There actually is a companion book to this that I saw while at the Grand Canyon. The National Parks love Teddy for all that he did for the park service. Thanks, Ted, for making my trip into the Canyon a possibility!

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    October 2018 Reading List

    I was super deep into my Civil War studies at Columbia and volunteering for Midterm elections, so I didn’t get much extra reading done this month. These are the books I enjoyed in October:

    Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Crossing Press Feminist Series) by Audre Lorde – Somewhere earlier this year, I’d read a criticism that to be a better feminist, middle-aged white women should read more works by minorities. I’ve since read and enjoyed a few this year, including Hunger by Roxane Gay and Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper. This one was recommended by one of the teachers at QED and is written by the black lesbian feminist poet Audre Lorde. It is a complication of her essays and speeches which means there is a little crossover / redundancy like similar collections but the writing is powerful and important. I’m so glad I took that criticism to heart and took corrective action. I’m not certain I would have chosen these books had that criticism not found it’s way to me and burrowed its way into my conscious.
     
    I had not heard of Audre Lorde until now and I am really angry about that. Same is true of James Baldwin who I just discovered this past year. If you’d asked me after I finished this book, I would have sworn she was a living, present day writer. I was shocked to learn that she had passed and that this book was published in 1972! Her writing is so damned relevant to today which fuels my already frustrated rage. How can this be written so long ago and be true still? Maddening. Anyway, I’m grateful to the woman who recommended it and will likely read it again now that I know more about Lorde and that it was written 4 decades ago and not last year. #%!&@. And if you have any books to recommend by WOC please do let me know!

    The Library Book by Susan Orlean – This is one of my favorite books of the year. It’s all the things I love: investigative journalism meets history lesson meets true crime all set in a library. It’s really great. It covers the 1986 catastrophic fire at the Los Angeles Public Library which destroyed hundreds of thousands of books. Was the fire the work of an arsonist? Orlean digs in deep. I loved it. 

    All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister – You definitely don’t have to be single to read and enjoy this. Yes, it’s about single women, but it’s also covers the changing roles of women since the 1800s. While I am married to Christian since ’06 and was married before that from ’89 – ’94, there were 12 years between I was single and living alone without family support. I also moved to new cities alone, knowing no one. And being married is no guarantee. Lots of women find themselves single after divorce or death and it presents its own set of challenges. I appreciated the statistics and research presented from the 1800s to today. The number of single and/or never married women has increased over the decades, of course, as societal pressures and norms have evolved but I learned so much more. Traister is prolific and I’ve enjoyed all of her writing. I’m glad to have gotten to know her work.   

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    September 2018 Reading List

    Invading Paradise:Esopus Settlers at War with Natives, 1659, 1663 by Andrew Brink – A review of the causes of the two Esopus Wars in what are now present day Kingston and Hurley in Ulster County, New York. I recently discovered that I’m descended from the original Dutch settlers in New York and, because they were so prolific and thorough in record keeping, my 7th, 8th and 9th great grandparents, aunts and uncles are all over the history books. Pretty neat. This book discusses specific immigrants / settlers (my fam!) and their challenges, motives and more. There is some discussion about PTSD which surely they suffered from after some  horrific attacks on their settlement which included my 8th great uncle being tortured and burned alive, slaughtering and capture of women and children and, well, some brutal stuff. From the author, “Were they prepared for what confronted them upon acquiring native agricultural lands? Readers are invited to consider exactly what happened to bring on violence.”

    Educated by Tara Westover – A memoir that is generating so much positive buzz, including accolades from President Obama. Whoa. How lovely for her. She grew up in a Morman fundamentalist survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho. Off the grid and unschooled. It’s a stressful book to read as it contains so much abuse and neglect that is, of course, familiar. It’s also incredibly  frustrating especially as I deal with my mom’s pathological need to keep up of appearance and have everything be cool even as she’s standing on hot lava. The author does a wonderful job of detailing without judgment and, with the help of some folks along the way, how she became educated.

    Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean –  Dean profiles 10 women (not necessarily “feminists”) who contributed to “cultural and intellectual history”. I liked the structure –a chapter profiling one woman, then the next and so on. However the author drops in interactions, influences and disagreements from one to the next, linking them all together. There were lots of interesting facts and some women I actually hadn’t heard of. I can’t say it was the most riveting read, but it was a nice compilation of literary women over the last several decades.

    The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner – I’m studying the Civil War and Reconstruction at Columbia. This book is written by my professor and is a comprehensive, yet succinct overview of Lincoln’s political evolution. It won the Pulitzer Prize for History, so yeah, it’s very readable and a good substitute if you can’t take the courses at Columbia. Prof. Foner is a smart cookie. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to learn from him. 

    Legends of the Shawangunk (Shon-Gum) and its environs, including historical sketches, biographical notices, and thrilling border incidents and adventures relating to those portions of the counties of Orange, Ulster and Sullivan lying in the Shawangunk region by Smith, Philip H. (Philip Henry), b. 1842 – Just a little light history reading about my ancestors during the Esopus Indian Wars and the history of the surrounding areas where my cabin is.

    Re: the Esopus Indian Wars: This book is available online (click link above) and there are two short chapters detailing the conflicts with the Dutch and Esopus Indians starting with page 15. It is all so graphic and horrific, but made doubly tragic by the fact that they lived in harmony before the introduction of alcohol to the Indians who became violent and “mad” when drunk. Then the English took over power of Wiltwyck (renaming it to Kingston) and wiped out the Esopus altogether. Terribly bloody and horrific and unnecessary. 

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    August 2018 Reading List

    Grant by Ron Chernow – “He was nothing heroic…and yet the greatest hero.” — Walt Whitman of Ulysses S. Grant

    Okay, this book. <3

    It’s a time commitment –this was listed on a previous month, in fact, but it expired and I had to get on a waitlist again. It covers his entire life from childhood to death, his struggles with alcohol, naïveté (gullibility?) in business ventures, his rise to glory for the most horrific reason (the Civil War, of course), his humility and grace all while keeping the Union together during Reconstruction and protecting the freed slaves and on and on and on. I cried when I fished the book –sobbed, really– and made a special trip to his tomb to pay my respects. 

    My sister-in-law bought me my own copy for my birthday and I plan to read it again along with the audiobook which I’ve placed on hold with the NYPL. That way I can hopefully read a little faster all while underlining, highlighting, bookmarking and researching all the footnotes. I’m loving my Civil War / Reconstruction studies at Columbia with Professor Eric Foner (Pulitzer Prize winner to you, thankyouverymuch) and this book is very relevant. I’m sure he’ll be adding it to the recommended reading list for future classes. 

    Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson – A nice, overall biography of a pretty smart and incredible man, a founding father who, like the others had his flaws. Franklin’s biggest being that he lived in Europe for over 15 years while his family was left behind in the US. Which, speaking of..I found his relationships with younger women interesting. He was rumored to be a ladies man and quite flirtatious but in all of the many letters and documents, there is no evidence of anything more than friendship and affection. Yes, sometimes flirtatious which would be harmless enough, but for the era. He was still married even if his wife was an “ocean away”. They do show that he enjoyed serving as a mentor and friend to several women over his lifetime. This student’s write up provided a nice summation on his relationships

    Sidebar: When I was in my early 20s, working my way up through the corporate banking ladder, I had a mentor who was nearly the same age as my parents. He was a dear friend to me and taught me more than anyone at any other job ever. Rarely were we flirtatious (we were co-workers, too, after all and this time period being on the heels of Anita Hill and workplace harassment being in the forefront) but we were good friends who were sometimes very silly together during our long drives to court, visiting bank-owned properties, etc. We sang “War! (What is it Good For?)” by Edwin Starr at the top of our lungs and met in the stairwell for coffee runs using the code, “The ship is in the harbor” for no reason other than to have an inside thing we shared. He schooled me on the Ohio court system of course, but also on 12th century explorer Ibn Battuta and bored me with lectures about the Byzantine Empire. When I was appointed officer and then assistant vice president so soon thereafter, all while so young and without a college degree, there were rumors. Unfounded and I shirked them off. We remained friends a full 10 or 15 years after we parted ways until we lost touch not long after 9/11. He retired and so his email went away. He moved and his name is too common. In fact, I just spent two hours trying to cyberstalk to no avail. Maybe this post will send some smoke signal into the Universe that reads, “The ship is in the harbor.”

    But, hey, did you know Ben Franklin invented Soduku? Sudoko? Sodoku? However you spell it or say it, Franklin invented it. I mean, electricity is cool and all, but seriously this blew me away.

    The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan – a gift by my Kentucky friend, Liz. This is a collection of essays and short stories by Keegan who died unexpectedly 5 days after graduating from Yale at age 22. Her writing does sometimes sound really young which makes it all the more heartbreaking. Her essay about the sun dying one day and none of this mattering broke my heart. I do prefer her non-fiction to the fiction, but that’s true of my reading preferences in general. Overall, it was a touching read and a lovely legacy for her family.

    The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – A classic which I enjoyed long ago. People love to hate on it or use it as a punchline and I couldn’t remember some things so I re-read it. I still enjoyed it. 

    God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Lawrence Wright – I was hoping for more of a chronological telling of some history of Texas. Instead it’s a bit all over the place timeline-wise. Some bits I really enjoyed (anything with Ann Richards is a win) and others were so out of place (Matthew McConaughey was his neighbor once. Okay?) and it was just a bunch of random essays all smushed together with some name dropping. I think I needed to be more familiar with the author and his writing to really enjoy it. Some complicated things in Texas history were glossed or skipped over and, I dunno, maybe I just don’t have any love left for Texas. I had a hard time finding how he had any pride for the state at all. 

    Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America by Eliza Griswold – I heard about this new book on the podcast “Why is This Happening?” with Chris Hayes. An excellent, excellent podcast. The author struck me as incredibly intelligent and thorough in her investigation, and so I was intrigued. This book is a terrific piece of investigative journalism centering around residents in Pennsylvania towns named Amity and Prosperity who are sickened by the environmental pollution from fracking waste. It reads like a drama but it’s real life and frighteningly close to home. This could literally happen in our backyard and the US government is, of course, a part of the problem more often than the solution. I wouldn’t doubt if Griswold wins an award or two for her brilliant and thorough work. A great read which also served to educate me on lots of environmental laws and issues.

    Not books but three documentaries I watched that I wanted to note for myself.

    I Am Not Your Negro by and about James Baldwin. So mad that I had never heard of him. What a shame that he wasn’t discussed in my school at all.
    The Uncomfortable Truth about the racist past of the documentarian’s family and An Ordinary Hero: The True Story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland about her experience during the Freedom Rides

    Click here to read my July Booklist
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    July 2018 Reading List

    I’m writing this really late so I’m bummed to not have written some of my thoughts immediately after reading. But here’s what I read in July

    Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam M. Grant – This one wasn’t quite profiles of “originals” as more of the regular business-y self-help type of book with specific examples or “case studies” along the lines of Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Pink. As I become more politically engaged, I particularly enjoyed learning about the strategies used by Serbian political activist Srđa Popović, leader of the student movement Otpor! to remove Serbian president Slobodan Milošević. Many tactics were adopted from Gene Sharp‘s writings on nonviolent action and Popović continues to help others organize political uprisings. The book lost me a bit on birth order –first born vs. the baby kind of analysis that really didn’t pique my interest– but otherwise I found it all interesting and a very quick read.

    Miss Ex-Yugoslavia: A Memoir by Sofija Stefanovic – She is producer of the wonderful NYC-version of the worldwide show Women of Letters on which I’ve been honored to take part twice*. I really loved her memoir /  history lesson. Her family left Serbia for Australia during Slobodan Milošević’s reign and the subsequent student movement Otpor! and civil war which I had just learned a lot about from the previous book. I had no idea that both would cover this topic and was taken by surprise at the coincidence. She was an immigrant without a true place to call home. She came of age while learning English while trying to retain her original identity and language, fit in at schools, have a *place* and *sense* of belonging…it really shed light on the difficulties faced by immigrant children. The title comes from her entering a beauty pageant for ex-Yugoslavians. She entered with the intent to use it as a paper for college, but it became much more. It was a really great read and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys memoirs. 

    *BRAGGY BRAG BRAG: I’m only one of two performers who’ve appeared on Women of Letters twice. The first time I performed on the show, the lineup included Molly Ringwald. Kathleen Turner was in the audience and, after my set, turned to the producer and said, “Now, I *liked* that!” Then at the after party Ms. Turner and I chatted up and I was completely gobsmacked by her presence. I love her. 

    The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America by Russell Shorto – In discovering my Dutch roots –my maternal great grandmother Ola Mae Newkirk is descended from the original van Nieuwkirks of Flatbush (n/k/a Brooklyn) and Wiltwyck (n/k/a Kingston), New York. Newkirk Avenue and Newkirk Plaza in Brooklyn? Named after my 9th great grandfather. Bam! What does that get me? Not a damn thing. Maybe some super specific talking points to someone interested in the Dutch roots of NYC and the American Colonies? Anyway, the book is great. It covers 

    Girl Walks Out of a Bar: A Memoir by Lisa F. Smith – I recommended this title to the NYPL a couple of years ago. I got an email alert that the library purchased the title so I felt obligated to read it. It was good! It’s especially great for anyone who is thinking of quitting drinking. Hers isn’t a story of lost jobs, horrific embarrassments, DUIs or anything like that. She just gradually morphed into someone who drank very heavily and did coke. Something that is all too easy to do in NYC with easy access, home delivery and the fast-paced lifestyle that comes with New York. It’s definitely not as gritty –she’s got a great job, doesn’t hang out in seedy neighborhoods or visit crack dens– but I think that’s what makes it worth reading.

    The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why by Amanda Ripley – A writer for the Atlantic, thoroughly researched and very fascinating. She takes a good, long look at disasters like tsunamis, stampedes, fires, plane crashes and includes studies on why humans behave like they do. There didn’t seem to a lot of Eureka! moments as to why those who survive do –only a few examples like one man in the Virginia Tech mass shooting playing dead (a natural instinct that also sometimes serves and sometimes hurts rape victims) and a bus boy taking control / authority during a horrible fire and saving many lives as a result. I’m shortening this wildly but it’s 

    Grant by Chernow (2nd half) – Sobbed like a baby when it was over. I can’t wait to go visit his tomb and give him a big H.U.G. 

    Other books and lots of historical research included: 

    Invading Paradise, Esopus Settlers at War with Natives, 1659, 1663Andrew Brink

    Cornelius Barentse Slecht and some of his descendants : a genealogical introduction to one of the oldest families in America

    Ulster County Probate Records 

    History of Kingston

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    June 2018 Reading List

    Below are the books I read in June in the order I read them. Summer has been too busy with short staffing for the July 4th holiday, my birthday and getting sidetracked on some super cool genealogy discoveries and research on the history of our Rock House. More on that later. Meanwhile…the books!

    The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel – I kind of skimmed it fast and should have tabled it for another time, because I did enjoy it. The writer was recommended to me by my niece, and this was the first title of hers available at the library. It was part of a series but that didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of it. It was pretty graphic / gory at times which I like. But, like the two other mystery books I’d read in February by Jane Jensen, there was some cringeworthy “romance” that seemed contrived. I’ll probably read another one of hers and hope she skips the random, out-of-the-blue, Skin-e-max sex scenes.

    Animal Farm by George Orwell – A classic I hadn’t read since junior high. Holds up. Good stuff. 

    Grant by Ron Chernow – So long, but so good. I got 1/3 of the way through before it expired and I had to get on the waitlist. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law bought me my very own hardcover edition which I’ve picked up in late July. The first 1/3 already had me so in love with Grant, especially after I learned that the other cadets at West Point teased him because his given name, Hiram Ulysses Grant, spelled out the itinitials H.U.G. Awww! And now that’s all I wanna do is give him a posthumous one. ‬ Because of that teasing, he preferred to be called Ulysses but the kids twisted that into calling him “Useless Grant”.  Kids, man. Kids. I got through Shiloh and just before his showdown with Robert E. Lee. Very engrossing and educational. I’m enthralled.

    The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson – This should be required reading. Till was kidnapped and brutally killed by a group of white men in 1955 at age 14 for allegedly whistling at a white woman*. The injustice and brutality of it all will break your heart and enrage you. The past isn’t so far behind us at all. The book is very, very good and very, very upsetting. It’s powerful; an incredible historical account & indictment.

    It’s also a wonderful profile in courage of Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. Her love, bravery and political savvy has assured her son won’t be forgotten. Do her the honor and never forget her boy.

    The white woman at the center of it all, Carolyn Bryant Donham, is now 84 and lives in Raleigh, confessed to the author that Emmett had lied during the investigation and trial. Tyson interviewed her two times for six hours total. That the author got this admission is remarkable. Of course we all knew she had lied but to hear it directly from her and so plainly? Wow. Jaw dropping. 

    For the week after I read it, I could hardly think of anything else, telling everyone they must read it. I even posted about it on Twitter on July 11th imploring all to read it and telling other Twitter users about the details. Then, the morning of July 12th, the Justice Department announced they were reopening the investigation in light of “new evidence”. Surely that new evidence is the woman’s confession to the author, but really it reeks of a political show by the racist Trump administration

    *The whistling part is a little unclear –some witnesses say he never whistled, while others,  including his cousin, say he did– but obviously that is no cause for the brutality. 

    All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – Simply gorgeous. My stars! Another departure for me in choosing historical fiction and I’m so glad I read it. It’s set in Europe during WWII  and tells the parallel stories of a blind French girl and a German boy made to join the Nazi Youth. Their paths cross but it’s not contrived. It’s not forced. It’s gorgeous.  

    Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig – it gets rave reviews on GoodReads.com but I’m on the fence. It’s about an autistic 14-yr-old girl named Ginny Moon, duh, who bounced around in foster care before being taken in by a forever family. There’s some mystery in the why and how Ginny was separated from her real mom and she’s obsessed with how her baby doll is doing. From the praise and my limited experience, Ludwig has really nailed autism and the way Ginny’s mind works. I was frustrated, impatient and got angry a few times, too, which certainly means I was engaged and invested in the story. Ultimately, I was so glad when I was done as the story was stressful and became tedious. This probably means I’ve made the right choice by not having kids! LOL! That said, I absolutely loved the character Eleanor Oliphant from the book Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine which I’d read earlier this year. Eleanor is also on the spectrum and the book also has a bit of intrigue, but with so much more heart and soul and believability. If presented with the two, I’d choose the latter.  

    I Was Told There’d be Cake by Sloane Crosley – Did not finish. A collection of short stories / essays and well written and funny but right now the world is on fire, and I feel like I need to feed my brain with more important things right now. I enjoyed essays on her family’s potential move to Australia and a pony collection from ex-boyfriends. She then wrote about what she’d described as the worst move in NYC. But her getting locked out of the same apartment twice really didn’t measure up as all that bad, and I put the book down after that. Sometimes you need to eat some fish and veggies and this book is more fast food. With my head filled with Grant, Civil War and Civil Rights…this just felt too frivolous to enjoy in the weeks leading up to the Midterms. 

    Eyes on the Prize (PBS) — Okay, this is not a book but a 14-part documentary by PBS that originally aired in 1987. It’s an incredible piece of work about the Civil Rights movement and race in America. The first part chronicles 1954–1965, including the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Selma marches, and more. The first episode actually covers the murder of Emmett Till in which I was now fully educated, and it was just as devastating and worthy of all the tears and rage. Each episode is at least an hour long so I opted to watch this and put down the books for a bit as I waited for “Grant”. (Poor Mrs. Grant, now I know how she feels.)

    The first part (6 episodes) should be part of classroom discussions. It’s so thorough and includes then current interviews with key figures. I wish I were an educator so I could introduce this to my students. I’d be especially keen to show this to students at my alma mater Richland High School and note that the school mascot The Rebels with a Confederate flag was chosen by students and passed by the board in 1961, a veritable “F you” to the Civil Rights movement. Those students, their parents, the school board and, well, everyone should be ashamed of that hateful legacy they saddled on us.

    ETA: Well, well, well, per the Wikipedia page they made an educational version of this in 2006. Good.  

    Click here to read my June Booklist
    Click here to read my May Booklist
    Click here to read my April Booklist
    Click here to read my March Booklist
    Click here to read my February Booklist
    Click here to read my January Booklist

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    May 2018 Reading List

    Below are the books I read in May in the order I read them…a lot of feminist books, a few by African Americans and, yeah, I’m fired up and ready to “make trouble”. Starting with dusting off my own story on domestic violence and living in the Deaf community. 

    My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem – Wrote a big ol’ entry on this already.
     
    True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness: A Feminist Coming of Age by Christine Lahti – Enjoyed it. Not sure why I chose to read it –I think it was recommended by an app and I saw “feminist” in the title.  It opened with a blurb from Steinem, so I was on board since I had just finished Steinem’s memoir. There was one chapter about Lahti’s brother’s physical abuse of her that SO incredibly mirrored my own –like, it sincerely could have been ripped from the pages of Burn Down the Ground– that I’m compelled to reach out to her and commiserate. It’s comforting to know that there is someone out there who so totally understands what you went through and the frustrations and confusing emotions when your own parents–those who are supposed to protect you–play down the incidents and turn the blame back to you.
     
    It’s Up to the Women by Eleanor Roosevelt – It’s dated, obviously, but remarkably on point with some current day issues like equal pay for equal work which is disheartening.
     
    Slave in the White House Biography about Paul Jennings who penned the first memoir of a slave who actually lived and worked in the White House. This book is not to be confused with his actual memoir. Learned a lot about James Madison and Dolley (not a fan, overall) and her treatment of slaves including Sukey.
     
    The Only Girl in the World – A Memoir. Pretty intense account of her life basically imprisoned by her mentally ill, abusive, weird as hell Dad.
     
    Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World by Joann Lublin – Joann was an editor at the Wall Street Journal and a lot of the women are leaders of major corporations and very, very rich. I would’ve liked hearing from some more charitable folks who head up non-profits and social services
     
    Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – Framed as a letter to his son, Coates speaks of what it is to be black in America and inhabiting a black body.
     
    Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay – Wow. I related to this a little too much when it came to sexual assault and how she downplayed it in the aftermath. The long aftereffects and how that manifested for her with eating and weight issues. It gave me some food for thought (no pun intended) on someday sharing my #MeToo stories.

    Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittany Cooper – Smart. Informative. She’s a rising star and feminist. I enjoyed meeting her and chatting with her after our gig during which we shared the stage with the authors of Oslo (Tony Award for best play) and Call Me By Your Name (a few Oscar nominations). So much so that I asked Christian to join me at SoHo House to hear her speak again. She’s got superpowers, indeed.

    The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit – More smartness from a feminist. I’m still educating myself and feeling pretty damned angry and powerless and powerful and hopeful all at once.

    Not That Bad– Edited by Roxane Gay – A collection of stories by sexual assault victims. I added this after being inspired by Gay to maybe share my #MeToo story. I stopped reading very soon into it. Tried picking it up again for a few more essays. I dunno that I’ll revisit this one. It’s heavy. And triggering.
     
    The Immortalists by Chloe – Lovely read. Literary Fiction. Not something that will stick with me for forever but I enjoyed it. Can’t say that I’d recommend it over other literary fiction (I don’t read much of that genre) as time is short, man. Maybe read something that has more lasting impact? I feel bad typing that as it was a lovely read. I just know that I will have forgotten most of it very soon.
     
    Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead by Cecile Richards – I did not know much about Cecile before reading this book. I’m a big fan of Cecile’s late mom, Governor Ann Richards –I even threw a party for her once in NYC!– and, of course, I support Planned Parenthood and women’s rights. This book is *extremely* inspiring about both Ann and Cecile’s commitment to serving and women.

    #Kambri2018Booklist

     

     

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    April 2018 Reading List

    Below are the books I read in April in the order I read them… 

    Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg (Memoir)– Written about his crack cocaine addition which is troubling enough. But the rapidity of the downward spiral from having everything (his own literary agency, gobs of money, rich and famous friends and clients) to nearly losing everything, including his life, is jarring.  The Nancy Reagan and “just say no” to drug ad campaigns of the 80s about the dangers of cocaine scared the heck out of me and, it seems, for good reason. Yikes. The author haunted the Meatpacking District around the same time I was and stayed holed up in the same hotels (the Gansevoort and Maritime) where we housed comedians who were headlining at the comedy club Comix. I’ve a feeling Mr. Clegg and I crossed paths. So I enjoyed reading about the area, remembering what it was like in the early and mid-aughts. He’s definitely a privileged white male and so avoided jail even though he was openly scoring drugs on the streets and was able to get help, forgiveness and the support of his friends and family. He counts his blessings as he should. Wowzer.

    Dead People Suck by Laurie Kilmartin (Memoir / Humor)-Laurie is a friend of mine and former officemate of my husband’s back when they wrote for “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn”. We sell her book at QED and had a book signing for her after a show which is a yet another wonderful bonus QED brings to the table. I was laughing then ugly crying then laughing all within the first chapter. Towards the end, my emotions stabilized and it was an honest, funny, saucy take on a difficult and personal topic. Even the chapter titles had me guffawing with a head-nodding, yep, this will happen. Gah! Example: “Are You An Old Man With Daughters? Please Shred Your Porn.” Not for the sensitive or conservative but they should read it anyway to help lighten the load.

    Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg by Todd Barry (Memoir / Travelogue)– I’ve known and worked with Todd since the early aughts so, of course, I will read anything he writes. This is actually more of a travelogue with the angle of living as a road comic at some of the smaller theaters and clubs. That means a lot of commentary on local coffee shops, dining options and sights to see. If you’re familiar with his fake bravado, stylistic comedy and deadpan cadence, I think you’ll really enjoy it. It’s quick and breezy read. There’s not a tremendous amount of “inside baseball” with comedy club jargon so the average person can still read and enjoy. Nothing major happens, though, so if you’re looking for a rollicking tale of life on the road and don’t know who Todd is, you might not laugh as much as I did. But I did laugh. A lot. Once so suddenly and loudly while standing outside that a man jumped…SPRANG sideways with both feet. “Sorry!” I smiled. “Todd Barry made me do it.” #SorryNotSorry

    The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (Mystery)– Loved, loved, loved. I read the review in either EW or Elle magazines and decided to give it a whirl. The synopsis of the book, which I’ve pasted below, sums it up perfectly and won’t spoil it. It’s one of the better mystery / suspense novels I’ve ever read. The main character struggles with drinking much like “Girl on the Train” and that redundant struggle of “Okay, today I”m not going to drink until 5PM,” or “No drinking today, period,” can be maddening. Oh, the grip alcohol has on people. Sugar is the devil, man.Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

    Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

    What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

    The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks (Fiction / Suspense?) – Unlike “Woman in the Window,” the synopsis of this book does it a disservice. The book-flap bills as some sort of suspense, so I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. And while there are some surprises throughout, I think it is mistyped. It is, however, wonderfully written and a great snapshot of how people treat each other when they’re hurting and angry. In this case the three main people are a divorced couple and the woman who came between them. Some people apparently *do* find it suspenseful. But my going into it thinking that it was some sort of big mystery like the “Woman in the Window” kind of spoiled that for me. In fact, I think I read the review in the same article as WitW as a roundup of hot mysteries or some such. I wish I’d cleansed my palate between the last book and this one with a history or comedy or hadn’t read the synopsis. Alas, I did not. Again, it’s wonderfully written prose with fully fleshed out, complex characters which makes it well worth the read.

    Team of Rivals : The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Non-Fiction) Highly recommended by my friend Eileen Moushey and others. A great book about Lincoln’s genius in appointing his rivals for the Republication nomination of 1860 (William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates) and later Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War. This book is like a mini-biography of all five men and includes a human perspective behind all the political drama.

    1776 (Non-Fiction) – It actually covers the time including some of 1775 and 1777. It’s not all encompassing about the Revolutionary War or the Declaration of Independence. Rather it’s a very detailed account of the conditions, the strategies, the battles during this specific time period. General Washington is definitely a lot more flawed and inexperienced than I had ever known about before this read. I enjoyed the British perspective and General Howe and his redcoats. I also learned more about General Nathaniel Green and Henry Knox both of whom, for whatever reason, have not really factored in to any of my prior reads. How is that? Strange. And, hot damn, now I need to read an entire book about the crossing of the Delaware.

    The Cyanide Canary: A True Story of Injustice by Robert Dugoni – (True Crime / Non-Fiction) – Based on true events in the mid-90s that resulted in a 20 yr old kid being exposed to toxic levels of cyanide. These were the early days of the Environmental Protection Agency and a time when I was an AVP of a bank and collecting large sums of money owed from commercial debtors, many of whom were complaining about the new EPA laws destroying their livelihoods. It’s really a long case study, look-see into the investigation that spanned many years and the trial of a “white collar” criminal. As many trials go, there is some repetition with testimony, etc.  It is well written and engaging so  you’ll get a really great case study and trial recap, the history of the EPA and the push / pull between the EPA and corporations and capitalism in America.

    The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank – I’ve never read this start to finish. Given our current political climate I thought I should. Bless you, Anne.

    Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem – Essays originally published in ’83 with some updates provided in ’95 when it was reissued. The one main essay that takes up a large chunk of the book is about Steinem’s infamous stint of going “undercover” as a Playboy Bunny in the 60s. I’d known about it, of course, but had never read the essay in full and it’s worthy of a read as is “Ruth’s Song (Because She Could Not Sing It)” about Steinem’s mother. It covered important distinctions between pornography and erotica and, well, the whole thing felt very 2018, sadly.

    American Fire: : Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse (Non-fiction / true crime) – An excellent book, especially for the true crime fan.  But it is so well written and engaging and the real-life characters and drama are so compelling, I’d recommend it to anyone. It makes no difference that you, dear reader, are aware of the final outcome from the onset. It is well worth the read. Hesse is a phenomenal writer and has gained a fan in me.

    Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – (Fiction) – So, so, so good. I fell in love with Eleanor, Raymond and the whole lot. Eleanor is somewhere on the spectrum and/or has suffered some sort of childhood trauma and so has difficulties with social interactions. She lives an extraordinarily lonely life until the new I.T. guy Raymond comes along. It’s a lovely read. I found myself sobbing a few times during not particularly sad parts…just from the ache of love I felt for Eleanor and the longing of wanting her to be happy. It’s being turned into a movie which I’ll surely watch, but I’m so, so glad I read the book.

    Click here to read my June Booklist
    Click here to read my May Booklist
    Click here to read my April Booklist
    Click here to read my March Booklist
    Click here to read my February Booklist
    Click here to read my January Booklist
    #Kambri2018Booklist

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    March 2018 Reading List

    Okay, as I’ve said, I don’t really review books. I rely on the good readers at Goodreads.com and the top Amazon reviews when I am looking for them. Plus, I would never document my reading list if I set out to give a proper review. I’d want to put in more thought and time in crafting a synopsis without spoilers, etc. Caveat out of the way, here are the books I read in March in the order I read them, except for the Andrew Jackson bio which I put at the bottom because it got loooonnnng… 

    1) Text Me When You Get Home by Kayleen Schaefer— This book appealed to me as I’ve been trying to be a better friend post-QED and post-cancer. It’s a mix of memoir and a history of female friendships in pop culture like the movie “Beaches” and TV shows like “Girls”, “Parks & Rec” and the movie “Bridesmaids”.  Since it references lots of shows and comedians I watch or know, I felt like it would be relevant to me and QED. I enjoyed it.

    2) The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg — This is my 2nd Flagg novel and, man, she can bring some characters to LIFE. Small southern towns and the people who live in them are her specialty, that’s for sure. This was parts family secrets and mystery mixed in with a historical fiction. Flash backs to WWII era included women pilots called WASPS and wing walkers. Fun stuff, especially in the revitalized feminist movement. . Flagg is gay and clearly a feminist, and so I love her well-rounded, nuanced women characters.
     
    One thing about the two Flagg books, she crams a LOT in. I felt like the book was winding up and could’ve ended when lo! The main character goes through a lot more. It’s almost *too* much. Like she could drop the last couple of chapters and make a sequel! But it is all satisfying, fun, light, gave me a little introspection on what defines family and how we self-identify. Plus I loved that the main character Sookie has a bit of a re-birth in her later years. As I am decidedly middle-aged, I have wondered what relevance I have left in my chosen field of work. The answer I found is to keep creating as Sookie did, surprising herself with some success as an entrepreneur when she was at least my mother’s age.
     
    3) American LionbyJon Meachamreview at the bottom
     
    4) You Don’t Look Your Age…and Other Fairy Tales by Sheila Nevins– I definitely needed to follow up the Jackson bio with something lighter. Enter this collection of essays, musings, stories by a famed HBO documentarian about herself and others. A couple were take it or leave it and a few others had me sobbing openly in public. Granted, my Tamoxifen chemopill hormone drug was kicking in, but still…

    5) The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson – I really liked this and sell it at QED. As soon as I was done, I put a bookmark reminder to read it again. It could be a companion piece to “Happier…” written Tal Ben-Shahar 10 years ago. Manson talks directly about some of the exact same stuff (“happiness isn’t found on the mountain peak, it’s found in the climb on the way to the top”…that kind of stuff.) It isn’t ground breaking or anything. He said things in ways that resonated to me, and I was in the mood to receive the message, I guess. I understand he might not be for everyone with the cursing and the bragging about banging so many hot chicks but I dug it. One part that I needed to hear was related to commitment as I’ve struggled with my love / hate relationship with New York that teeters on hate most days. From his book:

    There are some experiences that you can have only when you’ve lived in the same place for five years, when you’ve been with the same person for over a decade, when you’ve been working on the same skill or craft for half your lifetime. Now that I’m in my thirties, I can finally recognize that commitment, in its own way, offers a wealth of opportunity and experiences that would otherwise never be available to me, no matter where I went or what I did.

    I could not have built QED if not for the fact that I had devoted 14 years of my life to this city and, even more specifically, staying in Queens. Now I’m 18 years into my commitment. While NYC and I need couples therapy on days where the weather is awful and my makeup falls on the bathroom floor because we don’t have a counter (WHO DOESN’T HAVE A COUNTER IN THEIR BATHROOM? A NEW YORKER!), we are in it now for the long-haul. Starting over doesn’t feel reasonable or even fun, really, after the initial shine of discovering new places wears off. Hell, I can have that shine by exploring parts of NYC itself or traveling. So, NYC, in the words of Huey Lewis & The News, I guess “I’m happy to be stuck with you.”
     
     
    6) I’ll Be Gone in the Darkby Michelle McNamara— Michelle was a true crime writer and Patton Oswalt’s late wife. He urged her researchers to help finish the book she was working on when she suddenly passed. I love a good mystery and true crime and strangely this very prolific serial rapist turned serial killer monster man has somehow not been big news over the decades. Michelle sought to correct that and dubbed him the Golden State Killer. It doesn’t have the satisfaction of discovery at the end…this is and will likely remain an unsolved case unless all the DNA Facebook identity 1984-ish data collection flushes him out. Some of the facts and cases all start to boggle the mind and run together, but it’s captivating and worth a read if you are a true crime fan.
     
    7) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates UsbyDaniel H. Pink— Geared towards corporate or entrepreneurial-type readers on what drives us and employees. Most everything I learned was in the synopsis:
    … the three elements of true motivation:
    *Autonomy—the desire to direct our own lives
    *Mastery—the urge to get better and better at something that matters
    *Purpose—the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
     
    More importantly, I was reminded that happiness is owning and working at QED. Thank the gods I will never have a round table conference call about Y2K or some other dumb shit.8) Future Home of the Living GodbyLouise Erdrich– A dystopian novel that was so gorgeous and frightening and memorable –think The Handmaid’s Tale without the rape but with all the forfeiting of control over our reproductive rights– but the ending was so abrupt and unfulfilling. I think I would read it anyway knowing that going in, but dang it bummed me out to see the last page. I flipped back and forth wondering if I’d skipped something by mistake. I didn’t. :-/
     
    9) Book That Shall Remain Unnamed by Hardcore religious zealot who would love women to stay in the kitchen — It was the only thing available at the library so figured what the heck. It’s geared towards entrepreneurs who haven’t yet started their business. A 30-day plan that, honestly saying as someone who dreamed up and created QED from scratch from the logo, website, etc., is not very realistic. He’s a start-up consultant, though, so my guess is this is just a giant commercial for his start-up consulting business. It’s very quick and I skimmed through a lot since it didn’t pertain to me (like how to build a following and brand before launch). He made some references to God but not so much that it was distracting or took away from the work that one puts in to starting a business.
     
    One thing I got from it was about making a very strong effort to control my mornings so that my day can fall in line, too. I agreed so much with this and that’s what made my radiation treatment so challenging. It pushed the limits on my time and mornings were so hectic and stressful with Mom being here in my only private, quiet space while trying to manage the house, QED, dogs and life. But then I made the mistake of looking him up to properly quote him about the mornings. He’s a crazy conservative bible thumper who is anti-woman and hawking ridiculous views on everything from Halloween, how women should dress and child care.  
     
    5) American Lion by Jon Meacham – After reading, I found out it’s being turned into an HBO miniseries. I definitely will watch it. HBO’s “John Adams” series was remarkable. I’ve watched it three times, once with the little historical pop-ups on the special features (we own the DVD box set). You should watch it if you haven’t.Okay, the book… I started this one then stopped mid-way through the 2nd chapter because, man, there was a LOT going on. I wanted to table it until I could really absorb it. His childhood and family was wrought with drama.  I did learn about the Nullification Crisis and how Jackson helped keep the Union together, stalling the Civil War by some 30 yrs. But I feel like there’s a better biography that would cover his life as well as his presidency.Jackson’s campaigns and presidential terms were shrouded by mudslinging and a dumb fucking scandal dubbed the Petticoat Affair. It made me hate his niece Emily Donelson (wife to his nephew / aide, Andrew Donelson) as she was behind the ostracizing of Secretary of War John Eaton and his wife Peggy O’Neal. It was all so disgusting and DRAWN out the book felt like the last 30 years of The goddamned Young and the Restless. The scandal actually resulted in Jackson basically getting rid of almost his entire cabinet. Wow. This and other things were Trump-like, so I’m left feeling exhausted.I think I want to study American History like, forreal. Or, I don’t know…learn more than just from reading these biographies. I can’t get enough but I also might be having a mid-life, post-cancer, existential crisis. History repeating itself is embarrassing and baffling. I feel impotent in America’s rapidly downward spiral. Boy. Maybe I should lay off the historical biographies for a bit until Trump is impeached.

    I transcribed a few passages from this book that I want to keep with me for a bit longer. One, re: Henry Clay, who lost to Jackson during his reelection:

    “Believing himself smarter and sounder than Jackson, Clay suffered from a terrible case of over-confidence. ‘The campaign is over and I think we have won the victory,’ Clay said privately on Saturday, July 31, 1832.His certitude kept him from seeing and thus combatting the roots of Jackson’s appeal. He thought Jackson a bullying despot and could not fathom apparently why anyone other than the mindless Jackson partisans might see things differently.”God, does this sound familiar. Random fact I discovered while simultaneously doing some ancestry research: Henry Clay’s son Theodore was institutionalized in the same insane asylum in as my mom’s great uncle and a whole bunch of bodies are buried there. So, that’s gonna be a fun mystery to dig up. Heh.
     
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    February 2018 Reading List

    My February Booklist is complete with eight books! 

    I’m not really good at quickly reviewing books. I enjoy and trust Amazon and GoodReads.com reviews for that. This is really more for myself. And with that, FEBRUARY books listed in the order that I read them.
     
    1) A Beautiful, Terrible Thing by Jen Waite (Memoir) – I heard about this book via The Astoria Bookshopand a local bookclub who needed a space to meet and FaceTime with the author. They used QED for the meeting so I overheard a lot of the discussion and was intrigued. The events are set in Portland, ME and Astoria, NY –the author and her now ex-husband opened a restaurant near my apartment that I’ve eaten at, in fact. So it felt a little gossipy and salacious to hear about how she found out he was cheating on her just a few weeks after she gave birth, but not overly so. I enjoyed it and was fascinated by the psychopath / sociopath exploration since I’m pretty sure My Jailed Deaf Dad is one or the other or some combination. It was a quick and easy read which I finished in one day.
     
    2) White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg (Non-Fiction) – Not so quick and easy at almost 500 pages of dense history, I felt like I was trudging through it a few times. But it’s an interesting exploration of race and class in the USA. Toward the end as the author approached modern times, I felt like it rushed over things. Given today’s #BLM movement* and the issues of race and class disparity being at the forefront lately, it’s worth a read even if it’s a bit heavy.
     
    3) I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman (ESSAY COLLECTION) and Wallflower at the Orgy, (ARTICLE COLLECTION) by Nora Ephron – I got on a Nora Ephron kick. She’s funny and inspiring and both books are arranged in bite-sized chunks so they’re easy to pick up. For this reason, I read the former title for a 2nd time. The latter was a collection of articles and interviews she’d published some decades earlier but I found them to be very interesting and not dated at all, particularly the Mike Nichols interview which I later looked up to transcribe and share with my husband. I followed up the books by watching the HBO documentary Everything is Copy and Ephron’s 1996 commencement speech at Wellesley College. It’s particularly relevant and timely with the #MeToo movement.*  Please watch it.
     
    4) Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist (Self Help) – I’m not sure how this got on my list–I think it was recommended by my library app because of another book. It was the only thing available at the library on my wishlist when I finished my Ephron binge, so I figured what the heck. It’s self-help with some god stuff thrown in. It’s not too heavy on the religion so I kept with it and felt like I got something out of it. It is as the title suggests about being present in the moment and not sweating over being perfect with Pinterest or Insta-worthy homes, clothes, moments…just be. It’s repetitive the way a lot of self help books are which makes it a fast read. The author has a lake house, speaking gigs that take her around the country (world?) and a jet setter life, so I’m guessing the average person won’t be able to relate to some of her examples. For me, her family seems really close and lovely which really made me sad since I definitely don’t have that and never will. But I treated it like a seminar that I was signed up for by my bank: as long as I leave having learned one thing it will be worth it. And it was.
     
    5) Kingdom Come by Jane Jensen (Fiction – Mystery) – I’ve been getting back into mysteries in the last few years and have started to venture out to other authors. This one was recommended by my library. It was set in Amish country in rural PA. I used to live near and visit the area a lot back in Ohio, so the bucolic setting and familiar characters had me hooked right away. The romance was a little icky/schmaltzy but not a big part of the overall story so I was still interested and thought it was decent enough to read her follow up.
     
    6) In the Land of Milk and Honey by Jane Jensen (Fiction – Mystery) – By the same author as #5. Also set in Amish country and, I dunno, I’m glad I read both but I probably won’t read more of her stuff. Again she inserted a romance that was awkward and, in this case, completely unbelievable (Briefly: As a detective works on a mass murder serial killer case, some guy on the case that she doesn’t even know puts pressure on her to ditch her main squeeze and run away with him. What?! So bizarre and uncomfortable.) Also, she uses metaphors like “shaking like a leaf on a tree” and “floating like shit in a toilet” (not joking) and so I think I’m done with this series.
     
    7) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (Memoir) – A classic for a reason. Don’t know why I never read before now. Really glad I did. It sure made me uncomfortable at times, for the right reasons.
     
    8) Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (Historical Fiction) – Set in Brooklyn during WWII, it follows a Rosie the Riveter type with a little bit of a mystery thrown in. I loved it.
    *Hmmm…sensing a trend here that everything old is new again. Sigh.
    #Kambri2018Booklist
  • All Blog Entries,  Books & Publishing

    January 2018 Reading List

    Now that Mom is gone and radiation is done, I’m back to my books! Oh, books, how I’ve missed thee!

    As a treat for myself, –’cause I love to organize my books, ya know– I’m going to try to chronicle my books for 2018. If I do it, then maybe I can piece together my 2017 reading list from my library history.

    My January Booklist is in the bag with six great books that gave me pleasure and/or inspiration. They were:

    1) Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (NON-FICTION) – Started this in December but then my loan expired and I had to get on the waitlist for it. Grr. A really straightforward discussion about end-of-life care for the elderly and those with terminal illnesses. I’ve told many people over the years about the documentary “How to Die in Oregon” which centers around assisted suicide. It’s a beautiful and moving film. I remain baffled at how Oregon remains the only US state with legal assisted suicide. Anyway, this book only *briefly* touches on assisted suicide and is all about assisted *living. How can we improve the quality of life for people who are at the end of life? The doctor talks very frankly about death and dying in ways I’ve grown used to during this whole sickness saga. There is no cure-all solution offered. We’re all gonna die eventually so, sometimes rather than following the lead of pharmaceutical and healthcare system to “fight” a disease at all costs (both literal and figurative) for futile cases, families and doctors can learn how to better manage the quality of life with the knowledge that the definition of “quality” is different for each of us. I learned a lot from this, so thanks to whomever here on FB recommended it to me. I can’t remember!

    2) Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg(FICTION) – My sister-in-law posted something about this some time ago. I hadn’t heard of it or Flagg, or so I thought. Duh! That’s the woman who wrote Fried Green Tomatoes! AND she was on Match Game. Get outta town. So I checked it out. It was cute, grabbed my attention right away, and I thought it was gonna get a little preachy when it started talking Bible stuff but, not only did it not, it had some twists and turns that were just…what?! I did NOT see that coming. I enjoyed it (and LOVE Fried Green Tomatoes enough that I put Flagg’s book The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion on hold to enjoy in spring or summer maybe.

    3) The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish(MEMOIR) – I’d never heard of her before she was on SNL. I actually didn’t see the episode but wondered how I hadn’t heard of her given the pretty big platform of SNL. I should get with the program. So when I saw her book while browsing my library app, I snagged it. Oh my god, she is *ridiculous* and I loved it. Jaw dropping, head shaking and guffawing mixed with some “Mmm hmmm!” and “Preach it!” Holy smokes she had it rough growing up, too. So throw in a few “Bless your hearts”. I’m also gonna grab a copy or two to sell at QED. Funny, honest and bold.

    4) Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham(NON-FICTION) – Only two chapters in and I’m already, “What the heck are you doing with your life?!” ETA: Sigh. I love him. I found myself getting choked up as the end neared and then full on sobbed after his death, his funeral, etc. What an incredibly brilliant and beautiful man. Ahhh, why did he have to be a slave owner and have children with one of his slaves? Fuck. I spent time afterward, reading up on his views on religion and his book, “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” (a book literally ripped from the pages of the Bible. All the good stuff that Jesus taught minus all the myth and magic) and found out it’s currently on display at the Smithsonian until mid-June. I hope to see it before it’s put away again.

    5) Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar (SELF HELP) – a slim little gem recommended by my friend Lauren that I finished in a jiffy. I am going to go through it again, this time doing the little exercises throughout. I generally already know or subscribe to many of his concepts, but it was nice to hear them again. Especially now after my cancer bout has me feeling down and asking the Universe, “What is the point?” I just looked it up to confirm his name and see that it was published in 2007 and there is now a book of his called Even Happier. Maybe I’ll check that out instead of re-reading this one.
     

    6) Stinker Lets Loose!by Mike Sacks (FICTION / HUMOR) – The concept — the novelization of a long lost 70s trucker genre comedy film– is comedy gold and goddamned brilliant. It captures that weird window of time when movies like Smoky and the Banditand Every Which Way but Loosewere big hits. It’s so unpoliticially correct and delightfully ridiculous. I’m jealous I didn’t think of this and am so excited to see all the buzz Mike is getting via the live reads and such. It’s absurd and smart all at once and has so many tiny, perfect, rich details that reading it is like mining for comedy diamonds.

    #Kambri2018Booklist
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    North Platte’s Town Hall Event

    Big thanks to the folks of North Platte, Nebraska for inviting me to speak at their Town Hall Lecture Series. Past speakers have included some very big names including my inspiration, the lovely Jeannette Walls, author of THE GLASS CASTLE.

    My sister-in-law drove all the way from Missouri to meet up and brought my nieces along for the trip. It was great learning how to loom rubber band bracelets, teaching them how to make things with Bucky Balls, touring Buffalo Bill’s ranch and, generally, just seeing their pretty faces. The girls were mostly happy about my hotel pool and seeing their cousins while I’m pretty stoked about my bull horn turned beer bong necklace.

    BUT…the reason I was in town was to give a speech about my life turned memoir and what BURN DOWN THE GROUND means in the literal and figurative sense. There were about 400 people in the lovely Neville Center, including students from the special high school for “troubled” kids. I had no idea they were going to be there but was overjoyed when I found out they were. I hope my story and message about choices and reinvention resonated with at least ONE of them.

    Huge thanks to Keppler Speakers and the amazing ladies of North Platte. Who knows if our paths will ever cross again but I will carry the experience with me forever and always.

  • All Blog Entries,  Books & Publishing,  Deaf Culture & ASL,  Uncategorized

    Deaf Book Club Skype Call

    Rock House LibraryI’m at the Rock House and had a Skype call with a book club in Minnesota comprised of deaf women and mental health professionals working in the Deaf community. The whole thing took place in ASL.

    Man, I love technology and so wish this convenience had been around for my parents and grandparents. How wonderful to simply click a button on my laptop and be visually connected with no need for a special service or interpreter.

    We had a nice chat about my book, family, the Deaf community, and mental health issues before signing off so I could make a trip to the dump and walk with Griswold around the lake.

    While they’re busy reading books to help them in their important (thankless?) careers as therapists and DV counselors, I’m busy reading, too. I read THE BEDWETTER by Sarah Silverman (enjoyed it) and just finished Tina Fey‘s BOSSYPANTS (really enjoyed it). Tonight I’m starting Sara Barron‘s latest book THE HARM IN ASKING then it’s GIRL WALKS INTO A BAR by Rachel Dratch.

    I’m highbrow, what can I say?

  • All Blog Entries,  Books & Publishing,  Mentoring

    It’s GREAT!

    My super talented, sweet, funny and dynamo friend and fellow memoirist Sara Benincasa is now a YA author with the publication of GREAT, a contemporary retelling of THE GREAT GATSBY. I was so excited not only to see her back in NYC but to introduce my protege Jeaniah to Sara and a few other friends at the book launch party. Sara read from her novel then signed books as the crowd chit-chatted and ate cake that was designed to look like her book. Clever and yummy and a lovely night.

    My friends are all comedians, actors, writers and artists so they’re not stiff grown ups and immediately treated Jeaniah like a long lost friend. Here’s the conversation we had as we walked away from the party:

    Me: My friends are fun, right?
    J: Yeah and funny! I like being part of the conversation.
    Me: Yeah, nothing beats a good conversation with friends.
    J: I like how the conversation keeps going…like, I make a comment and then they make one and that makes you think of one and then I comment and it goes on and on.

    Thanks to my awesome friends for having a lot to say & being so funny and charming while they do it. She really enjoyed meeting you all & we got some good advice about the upcoming state math tests.

    And, of course, huge congratulations and continued success to Sara who has more books & TV show pilots coming down the pike than I can shake a stick at.

  • All Blog Entries,  Books & Publishing,  Family & Life,  Random

    Make Life Happen

    Don’t ya just love when the Universe sends a clear message? I’ve been pretty lazy about a few projects and haven’t been able (wanted?) to focus on them even though they get me excited simply talking about them. These horses have got legs, some of them are even saddled up, I’m just not hopping on and taking the reins for whatever reason(s).

    Then I got an email from a reader asking me if it was okay for her to use a line from my memoir as a tattoo (see pic). I’ve shared part of that email below with her permission:

    I wrote to you about a year ago after I read your book for the second time. I had told you about a passage in your book that struck me.

    “Events in my life just seemed to happen to me. Now, however, I wanted to make life happen.”

    You responded telling me about how you made lists and started making things work for you, having the universe respond. And again…it struck me.

    I have that passage written down and look at it daily. It’s on the wall at work. It’s a note in my phone. I even have it written on a post it note I keep in my wallet just in case I need that reminder. I have held that phrase, that power, with me since I first read it.

    … It’s become the way I try to live my life and it’s something I want to carry with me, literally, forever…

    In any sense, I appreciate your words and your kindness and I genuinely appreciate you for helping me to change my life.

    How nice, right? I replied to her that, of course, she could use the line. Her email came at the perfect time to remind me that I have to hop on the saddle and take the reins.

    She inspired me to live by my own words:

    Make life happen.

    ~Kambri
    Giddy up!

  • All Blog Entries,  Books & Publishing,  Deaf Culture & ASL

    CODA Author Kambri Crews at Mid-Manhattan Library

    Hey you! I’m super excited to say that I’ve been invited to speak on 8/21 at the New York Public Library. It’s a FREE event, open to all ages and will be ASL interpreted by Jon Wolfe Nelson from “The L Word”. Here are the details:

    WED, AUG 21 @ 6:30PM
    NY Public Library – Mid-Manhattan Branch
    5th Avenue
    New York, NY

    I will give a couple of stories presentation, read a bit , conduct a Q&A and sign copies of my memoir. Books will be available for purchase.

    ** For fun, check out this video of me singing a medley of songs -including “Runnin’ With the Devil” by Van Halen!- in ASL:

    * So, did you enjoy BURN DOWN THE GROUND? If so, then perhaps you’d be so kind as to rate and/or review it on GoodReadsAmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, or Indie Bound. Pretty please?

    ~~~~~~~

    The reviews are in for Burn Down the Ground: A Memoir by Kambri Crews and they’re raves!

    Buy it today!

    “Poignant and unsettling.” —Kirkus Reviews

    “Crews’ story has heartbreaking depth and complexity..this is a rich read.” —Library Journal

    A compelling testament to the strength of the human spirit.”—Booklist

    “Harrowing . . . A remarkable odyssey of scorched earth, collateral damage, and survival.” —Publishers Weekly

     “Crews’ account (the title refers to lighting brush on fire to clear out snakes) is as well-paced and stirring as a novel. In her fluid narrative (she’s also a storyteller on the side, a gig that helped her develop this book), Crews neither wallows in self-pity nor plays for cheap black-comedic yuks. Instead, this book stands out for what matters most: Crews’ story, bluntly told.” —Elle magazine

     

    ABOUT THE BOOK

    For fans of Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, an unflinching, emotional memoir by the hearing daughter of two deaf parents, about the rampant dysfunction of her rural Texas childhood and the searing violence that left her father serving a twenty-year prison sentence.

    Successful New York producer and publicist Kambri Crews always knew that her childhood was unusual– she spent a portion of it in a tin shack deep with her family in the woods of Texas. But when, in her early 30s, her charismatic and adored father is sentenced to twenty years in prison for stabbing and nearly killing his girlfriend, she must confront for the first time his violent, destructive behavior. In her brutally honest, completely captivating memoir, Crews struggles to forge a relationship with her incarcerated father and revisits her unconventional family and the long road she took to her current life

    Read a FREE excerpt  * Read the rave reviews * View pictures of the tin shed

    Easy purchase links: WalMartTargetAmazonBarnes & NobleiTunesIndie Bound and on KambriCrews.com

  • All Blog Entries,  Books & Publishing,  Deaf Culture & ASL

    To Read & Watch

    I’ve had the book Far From the Tree on my wish list since it was published late last year. His inclusion of deafness and Deaf culture sparked my interest. In his book, “Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.

    Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter.”

    He spent a decade on this project and that intensive research is reflected in the book’s length, a whopping 976 pages. That’s partly why I haven’t read it yet, as I have a full Kindle & bookshelf. But after watching Mr. Solomon’s incredible Ted Talk, Far From the Tree is now next on my reading list. Watch his speech here:

  • All Blog Entries,  Books & Publishing,  PR & Marketing,  Travel

    Fall Dates

    I’ve had a whirlwind tour for my book Burn Down the Ground. My last out-of-state event in Cleveland for the regional conference of the National Black Deaf Advocates was amazing, but I’m happy to take all of August off to recharge. Dates booked for this fall are below and details are on my calendar. If you want me at your event or store –especially if it coordinates with dates already booked below– email me at kambricrews@Gmail.com

    September
    17 – NYC for Bare! at the PIT
    19 – NYC for That’s What She Said at Public Assembly
    26 – NYC for the How I Learned series at Happy Ending Lounge

    October
    13  – Portland, OR – Wordstock Book Festival
    13 – Cannon Beach, OR – Cannon Beach Library
    18 – Winstead, CT – North Connecticut Community College (Free & ASL interpreted)
    20 – Cincinnati, OH – Books by the Bank Book Festival
    23 – Lansing, MI – Schuler Books
    24 & 25 – Grand Rapids, MI – Grand Rapids Community College (Free & ASL interpreted)
    27 – Texas Book Festival (Free & ASL interpreted)
    29 – Montgomery, TX – Montgomery Middle School
    30 – Conroe, TX – Hauke Alternative School

    November
    1 – Austin, TX – Book Woman book store (Free & ASL interpreted)
    7 – Washington, DC – Bare! at Black Fox Lounge
    10 – Madison, WI – Wisconsin Book Festival
    14 – New York, NY – Administration for Children’s Services

    January 2013
    17 – 20 – Jefferson, TX – Girlfriend Weekend – Pulpwood Queens Book Club

  • All Blog Entries,  Books & Publishing

    Happy Birthday to My Book!

    Happy birthday to my book!
    Happy birthday to my book!
    Happy birthday dear Burn Down the Ground: A Memoir!
    Happy birthday to my book!

    After a long gestation process, I’m happy to announce the birth of my book Burn Down the Ground: A Memoir. The reviews are in and they’re raves!

    Easy purchase links: WalMartTargetAmazonBarnes & NobleiTunesIndie Bound and on KambriCrews.com

    “Poignant and unsettling.” —Kirkus Reviews

    “Crews’ story has heartbreaking depth and complexity...this is a rich read.” —Library Journal

    A compelling testament to the strength of the human spirit.”—Booklist

    “Harrowing . . . A remarkable odyssey of scorched earth, collateral damage, and survival.” —Publishers Weekly

     “Crews’ account (the title refers to lighting brush on fire to clear out snakes) is as well-paced and stirring as a novel. In her fluid narrative (she’s also a storyteller on the side, a gig that helped her develop this book), Crews neither wallows in self-pity nor plays for cheap black-comedic yuks. Instead, this book stands out for what matters most: Crews’ story, bluntly told.” —Elle magazine

    ABOUT THE BOOK

    For fans of Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, an unflinching, emotional memoir by the hearing daughter of two deaf parents, about the rampant dysfunction of her rural Texas childhood and the searing violence that left her father serving a twenty-year prison sentence.

    Successful New York producer and publicist Kambri Crews always knew that her childhood was unusual– she spent much of it in a tin shack deep with her family in the woods of Texas. But when, in her early 30s, her charismatic and adored father is sentenced to twenty years in prison for stabbing and nearly killing his girlfriend, she must confront for the first time his violent, destructive behavior. In her brutally honest, completely captivating memoir, Crews struggles to forge a relationship with her incarcerated father and revisits her unconventional family and the long road she took to her current life

    Read a FREE excerpt  * Read reviews & blurbs  * View pictures of the tin shed

  • All Blog Entries,  Books & Publishing,  Deaf Culture & ASL,  Family & Life,  PR & Marketing,  Writing

    I Read it for the Articles, I Swear!

    Y’all. Mom found my Penthouse magazine while searching my office for paper!

    I flew Mom up to New York City so she could attend my book launch party. Not just any book…my first book. A memoir, you know, about my whole life. And the publishing process took four years. Having a publication date is a monumental event –much like a wedding or a birth– and I couldn’t NOT have Mom here to celebrate. It’s her life, too. Plus, I had a fun idea for her and I to perform a little something at my party*. It would make the event even more special for her and my guests.

    Mom arrived and we had a few days of tromping around New York City and rehearsing our surprise treat. I was also dragging her around Manhattan on not-so-fun errands in rainy weather with her achy knee and my split jeans. In the book, I divulged many things that Mom would probably prefer to keep in the closet with the other dusty skeletons. The time for her to accept that our laundry was about to be aired and for me to unleash my life to anonymous reviewers was drawing near.

    Shit was getting real. Mad real.Penthouse

    To distract us and work on something that had zilch to do with book stuff, I suggested she and I work on our new Ancestry.com project. Her face said it all: “GREAT IDEA!”

    She leapt up and said, “I’ll grab some paper.”

    Quicker than a wink, she was at my office printer.

    My printer.

    PRECISELY WHERE I’D HIDDEN MY PENTHOUSE! I thought that had been the perfect spot for it, but lo how wrong I was.

    “Why did I have a Penthouse?” you ask.

    For the articles, of course. Duh. Seriously! I swear! Well, one article in particular: a review for my book. It was a good review, too.

    So, why hide it then? Well, I know my mom better than most people and I knew –could lay my life on it– that she would take offense to it. Not because of the vaginas, boobs, penises and balls, silly, but because of the very first line:

    “Kambri Crews grew up dirt poor…”

    Whether you agree or disagree with that sentence, makes no difference. Mom disagrees with it and vehemently so. It’s one of those things that really gets under her skin in a hot second. It’s a pride thing. The same way I fight tooth and nail over small injustices. Justice is my thing. Pride is hers. SO…anyway…

    In the mere seconds it took her to fly off the couch into my office heading straight for the offending material, two choices flashed through my mind:

    Me & Mom

    1) Let Mom think I had a girly magazine hidden in my office and was possibly a closeted lesbian; or

    2) Show Mom the review and face the ensuing argument.

    I can’t have Mom thinking I like looking at nekkid girls! EEEEEWWW! So, I swallowed my fear and said, “Oh, hey, my Penthouse…did you see the review?”

    Instant relief swept across her face. I cringe and laugh out loud thinking of what must’ve gone through her mind in those brief moments.

    As predicted, she was offended. We hashed it out: There are finite lines in a girly magazine; ya gotta have a strong lede. We were poor to some people and had it good compared to others…it depends on perspective. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

    At the end of the day, I wrote a book. It got reviewed in a major magazine. It was lauded. Let’s celebrate! And, boy, did we ever! We raised our glasses and laughed and hugged and smiled till our faces hurt.

    We’re done keeping secrets, she and I. If there’s anything writing a memoir taught me it is this:  While it might hurt to bare the truth, secrets will make you sick. They will corrode your love and trust until all that’s left is a rusty heap of worthless scrap.

    So, what did Mom think of the book? Don’t ask me, read her interview in Time Out New York!

    *Here’s the fun idea I had for my book party. Enjoy!

  • All Blog Entries,  Books & Publishing,  Family & Life,  NYC

    NYC: If You Can Make it Here…

    Gift Bags

    A colossally badday in NYC!

    I was walking around in the rain, carrying two heavy bags filled paper sacks (in the rain!) that are meant for my book launch party. I was hangry, cold yet sweaty from wearing an overcoat while slogging through the sloppy streets, futilely trying to use an umbrella, but can’t go any faster because my mom is trailing behind me with her bum knee. I hang up a call that was  frustrating PR news, and that’s when Mom calls from behind me:

    “Kambri? I think your jeans are split.”

    OF COURSE THEY ARE!

    And now there’s a giant hole near my ass, the day can screw me a little easier now!

    “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere…”

    So the song goes. People assume this line is true because of the cut-throat competition, the hordes of talent that live and work in this town. I think it’s much simpler than that. If you’re not wealthy, day-to-day life in NYC can be tough and unrelenting. It’s days just like today that make many a newbie throw up their hands and say, “I quit! You win New York! You win you filthy, filthy whore.”

    If one can suck it up and stickit out, one can be rewarded with the best the City has to offer. Then after a few years, if one chooses to leave, the world is a much simpler place to navigate and dominate. A world in which you own a car and have a place to park it and a dishwasher and laundry facilities inside your very own home. Like the Jetsons! Can you imagine?

    This city can be like an abusive boyfriend. Every now and then it beats you up, but then it loves you harder and better than before as if to say, “I’m sorry. Truly. Don’t leave me…see, look how amazing I can be?”

    In my case, it was having my book published by Random House, throwing an amazing party with free (paper) gift bags filled with free goodies, free Lone Star Beer, bonafide celebrities blurbing my book and at my event to help celebrate. By the end of the night, I’d forgotten about the beating NYC had given me and decided to give it one more chance.

    Mom & Me Songs in ASLMomMe, Lisa Lampanelli & MomMom & Her iPhoneMom & My BookKambriKambri Bob, Me, Christian & MomCake WreckSonya, Me & RyanME!The BookChristianPerformingBright Sunshiney DayBright Sunshiney DayGone!Stop!Me, Lisa Lampanelli & MomSonya, Me & RyanGift Bags

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    Publishers Weekly Profile

    I received another amazing review for BURN DOWN THE GROUND from Publishers Weekly in which they describe it as “a remarkable odyssey of scorched earth, collateral damage, and survival.” They also called it a “harrowing memoir” and an “extraordinary story” and said I “face the truth with an unflinching eye.” Whoa. (Click here to read in full.)

    Publishers Weekly Profile

    Can someone show me how to sew words into a quilt? I need to wrap myself up in these for when I’m down on myself. Alternately, if there’s a recipe that melts words into a silicone penis that I could make sweet love to, that’d be swell, too.

    My friend Rachel said Stephen King doesn’t even get this much ink. I said I hope Mr. King reads it and is like, “Who the fu*k is Kambri Crews & why is she getting more ink than me?!” Then he’ll read my book, share it with his movie producing buddies, take me under his wing and host dinner parties with me as his special guest at his place in Maine where he lets me use his guest room and stay as long as I want because we have become as close as mentors/proteges can be without any hanky panky.

    THOUGHTS BECOME THINGS!

    Meanwhile, if you’re on GoodReads.com, my publisher is hosting a giveaway. It’s free & simple to enter.

    And here’s a link to the original review from Publishers Weekly published a couple of weeks ago.

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    Goodreads Book Giveaway

    If you’re a Goodreads member, my publisher is hosting a giveaway of my memoir. It’s free to enter.

    Goodreads Book Giveaway

    Burn Down the Ground by Kambri Crews

    Burn Down the Ground

    by Kambri Crews

    Giveaway ends January 10, 2012.

    See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

    Enter to win

     

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    My First Raffle

    I’m trying out Rafflecopter (a site in beta testing that organizes free giveaways) and just whipped this one together. Enter to win, if you like. Or not. I’m just happy I got the flipping thing to actually load! Scroll down & enter to win!

    And, you can still receive a bookplate scribbled by yours truly by sending me your proof of purchase receipt for pre-ordering BURN DOWN THE GROUND. Click here for details on that.

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    Pre-Order My Memoir!

    Pre-order now and by the time you get it it will feel like getting lay-a-way out of hock. And isn’t that the best feeling in the world?

    Hardcover version:  Burn Down the Ground: A Memoir and the Kindle version: Burn Down the Ground: A Memoir

    Kambri

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    A Q&A with Jason Buhrmester

    As a teen, Jason Buhrmester created skateboard and punk rock zines with names like “Slappy” and “Mullethead Illustrated” as a way of escaping the confines of his small hometown in rustbelt Illinois. Today, the journalist, editor and novelist is adding screenwriter to his resume by transforming his book “Black Dogs: The Possibly True Story of Classic Rock’s Greatest Robbery” into a film. It’s a fictionalized account of a real life robbery in which Led Zeppelin lost $203,000 in cash while on tour in 1973, just a month after Buhrmester was born.


    Your hometown of Kankakee, Illinois was rated the worst place to live by “The Places Rated Almanac”. Was it really that bad?
    I hated it the minute I was born. You couldn’t keep me there. If I could get to the train or get hold of a car –even illegally– I was going. I actually drove to Chicago at fourteen in a friend’s brother’s car. I felt like I was meant to born somewhere else. I never bought yearbook, went to prom, or joined a club. I thought, “Why make friends? You’re leaving here and never coming back. Don’t even bother meeting these people.”

    How did growing up in such an awful town influence you?
    I wanted to be connected to something outside of Kankakee. I had friends in Chicago who were into the same kind of punk rock music that I was. So every weekend I was there skateboarding, going to shows, and meeting girls.

    But I was a high school kid and there were times I had to be home. I think that’s what influenced my desire to get into journalism. I would buy mail order records from small punk rock bands. They would send it to me with a note and I’d write them back.  I was interviewing bands from the time I was 16 or 17. There was no publicist–it was me going up to them and asking if I could get an interview. I would write scene reports and record reviews for punk rock magazines and they’d send me the magazines. I was isolated but there were other people out there and I could reach them somehow.

    Why did you gravitate toward writing instead of forming your own band?
    It was really all I had to offer. I couldn’t draw. I could play guitar a little bit but there was no one in my town to form a band with and no one that was into the stuff I was. What could I do?  The only thing I had that I had any sort of natural ability was writing.

    You were a successful editor of Inked Magazine, so why quit to write a book?
    I remember being at a dinner and a guy said, “I just wrote a novel and it was optioned for a movie.” I was so angry with myself. Why hadn’t I done that? This guy was my age! I have connections, and I work with publicists and publishers. I wasted so much time playing fucking video games! It was like someone had beaten me to discovering America. I quit my job maybe three months after that and started writing. I was that pissed off about it.

    Did you have a movie in mind then?
    Not really. I thought it would be fun to see what would happen. Even if it just sits in a drawer, I wrote a book. I wanted to see if I could finish it. I knew the idea was at least good, so why not?

    Did it get lonely after working in buzzing magazine offices for so long?
    I only have hobbies that seem to isolate me. I love playing guitar by myself. I love boxing; I can do that by myself. I love skateboarding; I do that by myself. I have no coach. There’s no team; there’s no uniform. Either I do it or I don’t do it. I think all my pursuits in life involve me sitting alone, so I don’t have to listen to somebody else. And when I’m writing, I’m sitting alone.

    How does your wife feel about that?
    She’s used to it–and she’s into her own things. We’re one of those couples who can be in two separate rooms of the apartment for a day and not talk. She’s used to the ebb and flow where I’ll be really panicked and work seven days a week and cancel any plans. You guys go have fun and have a picnic in the park. I’ll be at home trying the best I can. Then there’ll be a week where I finally crack and get cabin fever and am just going out drinking every night and not even looking at a computer.

    Writing the book must have been a true labor of love. How did you make the switch from journalist and editor to fiction writer?
    Several literary agents told me I had a great idea, but nobody would represent me until the book was finished. I guess the book companies learned if somebody gets a check based on an idea, they just fucking disappear. So it became my job to make enough money so I could focus on finishing it. I had the idea but didn’t have the time, so I switched to freelance writing. I’d save enough money so I didn’t have to worry about paying rent for three months. For two months I did nothing but work on my book. That was my 9 to 5 job. I’d get up, sit at the desk and try to write something.  When my bank account started going down again, I’d go out and hustle for freelance work and build my savings a bit.

    You must have had a pretty rad book tour?
    If you thought there’s no money in magazines, there is no money in books. Unless you’re a huge author, there is no book tour. In fact, there is no book launch party! The publishers don’t do anything for you. I saved some freelance checks and quickly realized that my meager little budget was bigger than theirs. I fell back on my punk rock DIY roots: “I’ll do this myself.” I did my own publicity, shot a book trailer to post on YouTube, set up readings, threw a launch party, everything. People are pretty receptive especially if you kick at their door.  It’s simple logic like weightlifting. Pick up the weight or don’t.

    The publisher would call me and say, “Hey, the book’s doing really well!” Yeah, because my wife and I were killing ourselves!

    How do you feel about reviews?
    I’ve interviewed a billion musicians and they bitch about the negative reviews but don’t complain abut the good reviews. My logic has always been that you can’t pick and choose. Either reviews have validity totally or they have no validity. Which is it? So I just didn’t care. A good review to me has about the same weight as a negative one which is none.  You just gotta do your thing.

    What if the movie flops?
    I’ll just write something else. I’m like a cockroach; I’ll just keep coming back.


    Kambri

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    Facebook Page

    Happy New Year!

    For those of you on Facebook, there is a page for my upcoming memoir about life with Dad. The page includes the feed for this site, photo albums with never before posted pictures, and videos (only three now, one is not closed captioned {yet}, and the other two have no sound so no CC necessary).

    The page also has details on my upcoming performances or media appearances. So, if you’re on Facebook and are so inclined, you can click on the “Become a Fan” link. By doing so, you can also post your own discussion items, comments, receive direct email updates from me, etc. Here’s the link:

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kambri-Crews/55559482928

    I hope everyone’s 2009 is off to a splendid start!

    Kambri

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    Publisher’s Weekly Scan


    Publisher’s Weekly
    Originally uploaded by kambricrews

    My pal Rachel slipped me the actual issue of Publisher’s Weekly that reported my book sale.  Reading it made me squeal like a teen. Seeing it online was cool, but in print? Priceless.

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    The McCaulay Culkin Tidbit Will Have to Wait

    Some day I’ll tell the story about the intimate McCauley Culkin gathering in Montreal where a very drunk writer for a very popular TV show was aggressively lunging after my butt. But today, I’ll just tell you some news I’ve kept from you: I officially have a literary agent.

    Kambri
    I’m super excited! But now I must write day and night.

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    A Brief Book Review: The Lovely Bones

    I read the The Lovely Bones in about 9 hours at the rave recommendations of my pals Scott & Kevin. After reading the plot description, I knew this book was for me:

    On her way home from school on a snowy December day in 1973, 14-year-old Susie Salmon (“like the fish”) is lured into a makeshift underground den in a cornfield and brutally raped and murdered, the latest victim of a serial killer–the man she knew as her neighbor, Mr. Harvey.

    Alice Sebold’s haunting and heartbreaking debut novel, The Lovely Bones, unfolds from heaven, where “life is a perpetual yesterday” and where Susie narrates and keeps watch over her grieving family and friends, as well as her brazen killer and the sad detective working on her case. As Sebold fashions it, everyone has his or her own version of heaven.

    I enjoyed the concept thoroughly, the narration was well written and the characters were drawn beautifully with flaws and anger and rage and sadness after Susie’s death.

    There was a sliver of plot towards the end that made me annoyed and I tried my best to think of how to write about it. I didn’t read any reviews until today and the very first Amazon reviewer did the work for me:

    This novel is not flawless, nor should it expected to be. The narrative loses some of its momentum near the end. In addition, Sebold makes the mistake of adding a scene (which I won’t describe here) seemingly designed to lessen the reader’s regret about Susie’s missed coming-of-age, but instead the scene falls flat.

    But take those short three pages out and it is a really lovely memoir as told from a little girl in heaven and a riveting story of how a family (badly) deals with such a tragic loss of one of their own.

    Kambri
    Next up: The Secret Life of Bees. Also a loaner from Scott.

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    Sep 6, 2002

    So I’m having a very enjoyable after-work dinner at Martini’s and things start getting a bit noisy. Turns out the NFL is having a tailgating celebration right around the corner–literally. Jon Bon Jovi was interrupting my conversation! When I first arrived to dine, it was not busy. That was not the case when I left…what a zoo! You could slice the energy it was so thick. Not a bad alternative to my 1st choice: The Rink Bar & Cafe. Seems the Rink was closed for a private function—the new season of HBO’s “The Soprano’s” was aired at Radio City Music Hall and the after party was held there. Guess I wasn’t invited. Hmmph!

    Today’s overheard phone call was the scheduling of a mammography and sonogram. This was conducted at volume 10 while I’m busy trying to arrange for an urgent purchase and delivery of “Above Hallowed Ground” for the new Police Museum exhibit “Stronger Than Ever”. My rep at Penguin Putnam actually heard it too. That gave us a weird pause.Words of wisdom from today’s train conductor: “Don’t go stickin’ your feet in the doors thinkin’ they’ll automatically open. If you’re the only one on the platform, it means you’re late!” Everyone had a chuckle at hearing that one.

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    Jul 26, 2002

    Look for a six page spread about that book I mentioned back on July 13th in the upcoming September issue of Vanity Fair which hits stands August 6th. Why it’s not the August issue is beyond me. Pretty soon we’ll be getting July issues in April. How annoying. By the time my horoscope is valid, I’ve tossed the issue in the trash. Just how do those publishers think I am going to function in life without my star chart to guide and shape me? Hmmpph! I guess I’ll have to turn to fortune cookies. At least those are edible.

    Last night my boss attended the NYC premiere of Austin Powers in Goldmember. Sadly he had no good dish to share this morning. I’m sorely disappointed. After all, Verne Troyer (“Mini-Me” and noted in my June 14th entry) is Marc’s spokesperson for MicroPets. If I had gone in his place, I’m certain I could have had some MicroTales at the very least.