Non-Fiction, Sociology, Psychology

Range by David Epstein

In March I attended my first book buyer’s retreat and was grumbling about the fact that all the publishers were sending me fiction books – didn’t they know that some book buyers really prefer nonfiction? Until, finally, the last book arrived before I made my way up to Rhinebeck, New York – Range by David Epstein. I was THRILLED. And it was even more exciting when the only author whose book we were sent to attend the retreat, was the man himself. Needless to say, I fangirled, hard. And then quoted his own Atlantic article at him without realizing it… thankfully I got the details right.

Synopsis

From the Inside Flap:
What’s the most effective path to success in any domain? It’s not what you think.

Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. Butt a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.

David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters, and scientists. He discovered that in most fields – especially those that are complex and unpredictable – generalists, not specialist, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.

[…] Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepen their knowledge in a single area. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will thrive.

Review

A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.

While David doesn’t directly include the old rhyme in his book, it kept running through my head, every page I turned. For years, we are taught that if we want to excel at something, one has to start early and focus all of our energy into it. One cannot realistically decide to be a Olympian at 15, surgeon at 25, or an astrophysicist at 35 (as my dejected husband believes, his dream job, long story). Those lofty goals require years and years of dedication, or so we’ve always been told. But David starts off his book with a call back his first book, The Sports Gene, with the tales of 2 world class athletes, Tiger Woods & Roger Federer, the former a specialist, the latter a generalist, to turn society’s misconceptions on their heads.

Each chapter of Range covers a different topic, from sports to music, to mathematics instruction, emphasizing the underlying theme that those with a more general knowledge base are, essentially, able to problem solve better by using their disparate areas of knowledge to make connections between different scenarios and situations that benefit their ability to work and explore the world efficiently.

Some of the chapters focus on mastery of a particular skill within a larger field, i.e. trying lots of sports or instruments before focusing on one. And in these chapters, the examples offered are of people who found success in their chosen skill without having a known proclivity or outside influence encouraging them towards a particular activity or skill. Orphans in Italy who played musical instruments beautifully, those with no musical background taking quickly to the nuances of their instruments.

Conversely, he shows that how we learn greatly affects our ability to problem solve. Those who memorize, whether knowingly or not, have difficultly applying their knowledge across different types of problems and explaining their thinking or thought process (meta-cognition). He offers the example of chess grand masters who cannot adjust their thinking to asses a chessboard that has simply been rotated 90 degrees as well as mathematics students who appear to “learn” math skills but are really guessing until they receive the right feedback from the teacher.

I know the year is only half over, but Range is my favorite nonfiction book of the year and I don’t think there are many candidates for unseating it in my reading pipeline. I feel like it validates my life choices when it comes to what topics I pursued throughout my education as well as the employment opportunities I’ve taken. It’s difficult to shrug off your AP Stat teacher in high school when you drop his class for 2D Art and he tells you, the naive teen who wants to be a medical researcher what a big mistake you’re making. And it’s as if Range is looking back on teen me and saying, it’s okay. You made the right decision (it’s also been 12 years, I should probably just let it go at this point…)

From his discussion of sports (I played ice hockey), music (I’m a violist & composer), mathematics (I’m a math teacher who doesn’t shut up about number sense and mathematical theory when given the chance), am dual lingual (Wie geht es Ihnen?), and finished college with a history major focusing on American Legal History after having changed my mind half a dozen times (I started in biomedical engineering), and with 5 teaching certifications and 5 minors ranging from fine arts to chemistry.

I don’t say all of this with the intention of being a braggart, but because I’ve never really known what to do with all of my interests and which would be helpful in securing me a position/job/career. It seems every employment opportunity I’ve pursued, the organization (mostly schools) want specific areas of focus and experience. A generalized work history isn’t always what they’re looking for, but it is what I can offer.

And now I work at a bookstore, putting my vast general knowledge to use recommending books across a variety of genres and age ranges. And while I love it, staying in the same position is mentally taxing. It’s like I have a unique form of ADHD (along with actual ADHD…) And when my husband takes the jack of all trades rhyme to heart as well, it means that we have a house full of the spoils and accouterments related to all of our various interests – it was a necessity in our new house to have room for an art studio, space for a 1,000 book strong library with plenty of academic texts on everything from architecture and anthropology, and space for a motorcycle work shed out back.

In the old days, I feel like I would be an academic – the ivory tower would be the only place that would know what to do with me. I’d be like da Vinci or Jefferson (though not really because I’m a woman…), pursuing all sorts of different interests simultaneous and sequentially, jumping from one to the other as the interest arose. Right now I’d love to learn how to fly a Spitfire. But regardless of what I do, what I continue to do with my life, I’ll know that I can at least hold up one book, and many examples, of how my life is happier and better off for the vast array of my interests and knowledge. (That’s my viola, Kerry, my heavily-Post-it-ed advance copy of Range, and my pink-laced hockey skate below).

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Available for purchase with free international shipping through Book Depository.

Biography, History, Non-Fiction

Death in the Air by Kate Winkler Dawson

Picking out books with my nonfiction book club is such fun. Death in the Air is very similar to Devil in the White City, or so I’m told, and it was a good fit for the nonfiction book club!

Death in the Air

Synopsis

From the Back Cover:
London was still recovering from the devastation of World War II when another disaster hit: for five long days in December 1952, a killer smog held the city firmly in its grip and refused to let go. But in the chaotic aftermath, another killer was stalking the streets. All across London, women were going missing – poor women, forgotten women. Their disappearances caused little alarm, but each of them had one thing in common: they had the misfortune of meeting a quiet, unassuming man, John Reginald Christie, who invited them back to his decrepit Notting Hill flat during that dark winter. They never left.

The Great Smog of 1952 remains the deadliest air pollution disaster in world history, and John Reginald Christie is still one of the most unfathomable murders of modern times. Journalist Kate Winkler Dawson braids these strands together into a taut and gripping true-crime thriller about a serial killer and an environmental catastrophe with implications that still echo today.

Review

Death in the Air really wants to be Devil in the White City according to my book club. I, on the other hand, have read many Eric Larson books (Isaac’s Storm, Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts), but I have not yet read his best known work so I feel my assessment of it is not clouded by a previous read.

I was first introduced to the Great Smog through the Netflix series The Crown and was instantly intrigued. With all the discussion today of climate change and environmental disasters, its worthwhile to know that what we’re experiencing today truly is not a new, or even a unique, occurrence. Smog has been a regular characteristic of London and is featured or mentioned in numerous works of English literature. But the Great Smog of 1952 is unique.

Before reading Isaac’s Storm I wouldn’t have considered weather history a great interest of mine. But it never ceases to amaze me how destructive natural forces can be. And while the smog is trigger by the activity of men, it is, at it’s root, an environmental phenomenon. The best parts of the book are those where the author focuses on the smog and how it affected every day Londoners.

The serial killer side of things, however, felt mismatched. He wasn’t really active during the smog, but it was when his crimes were exposed. I got the feeling the two narratives just weren’t as compatible as the author would like us to believe. I found myself frequently skimming the chapters of murder and savoring the chapters detailing the natural disaster.

All in all, not a bad book, and definitely an informative read, but the narratives felt like they should have been two separate books.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback – $15.99 – 9780316506830 – 368 pages – originally published October 2017, this edition published November 2018 by Hachette Books – average Goodreads rating 3.50 out of 5 stars – read in April 2019

Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Travel

From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty

Another book club pick! I’m really enjoying having a book club again, particularly one that reads exclusively nonfiction! This book was originally recommended by a former book store coworker and I can’t wait to tell her what everyone else thought of the book.

Synopsis

From the Back Cover:
Fascinated by our pervasive fear of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty embarks on a global expedition to discover how other cultures care for the dead. From Zoroastrian sky burials to wish-granting Bolivian skulls, she investigates the world’s funerary customs and expands our sense of what it means to treat the dead with dignity. Her account questions the rituals of the American funeral industry – especially chemical embalming – and suggests that the most effective traditions are those that allow mourners to personally attend to the body of the deceased. Exquisitely illustrated by artist Landis Blair, From Here to Eternity is an adventure into the morbid unknown, a fascinating tour through the unique ways people everywhere confront mortality.

Review

As someone who has lost their fair share of friends and family members, as well as pets, almost exclusively to cancer, I’ve never really come to terms with how we, in the US, process death. A friend, who is currently going to school to be a mortician/funeral director, introduced me to Caitlin Doughty, an L. A. based mortician and founder of the Order of the Good Death, a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping people come to terms with their mortality and make decisions regarding the care and keeping of their body after they die.

These facts, when the book club picked it, made me a bit wary – I’m still not entirely at peace with my grandmother’s passing in the fall. I don’t like to talk about death. I don’t like to talk about dead bodies. I have difficulty with viewings and other death-related occasions. But, with an open mind, I started reading, with the hope that Caitlin would help me develop a better relationship one of the only facts about our lives on earth – they will end.

My husband often says he wants a Viking funeral, or a Tibetan Sky Burial, and each time he brings it up, I ask him to stop. I can’t stomach it. But Caitlin has gone all over the world, and her own country, exploring different cultures’ death rituals. And maybe it’s her writing, maybe it’s the distance, but it is absolutely fascinating! I really could not put From Here to Eternity – the travel aspect also helped me stomach the content. And at times, I cried, but for good reasons – Caitlin expertly goes back and forth between being detached and un-emotional, to feeling all the things when listening to her coworker recount the circumstances of the loss of her unborn son.

People die all the time, and she also goes into why cremation has become such a large part of the modern funeral industry, as well as the monopolies, corruption, and out-of-date laws that govern the industry in the US. To say I learned something would be a massive understatement. I was freaked out significantly less than I anticipated being while reading Packing for Mars last month.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback – $15.95 – 9780393356281 – 272 pages – originally published October 2017, this edition published October 2018 by W. W. Norton & Company – average Goodreads rating 4.29 out of 5 – read in June 2019

History, Non-Fiction, STEM

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Packing for Mars = Book #3 for my new Nonfiction Book Club! One of the members, not me, is super into books about space and Antarctica so our May read and July reads have been picked by her. And while I am a person who is often freaked out and overwhelmed by the vast void of space, I, surprisingly, wasn’t too freaked out by Packing for Mars.

Synopsis

From the Back Cover:
The best-selling author of Stiff and Bonk explores the irresistibly strange universe of space travel and life without gravity. From the Space Shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA’s new space capsule, Mary Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.

Review

Admittedly, I’ve started reading/listening to 3 Mary Roach books prior to starting this one. And while I’ve enjoyed them all, for some reason I put each one down without coming back to it after reading about 50%. Bonk, Stiff, Gulp, each one fascinating, but I certainly haven’t finished them. And I really couldn’t put my finger on why until Packing for Mars.

Mary Roach has a near insatiable curiosity – she could probably ask questions endlessly. I thought I was curious, but she far surpasses my natural inclination to learn about the same topic for any significant amount of time. By the halfway mark, my curiosity regarding her chosen subject is pretty much fulfilled. However, because of her curiosity, I see her fulfilling a unique role to the film industry.

NASA has actual space travel mechanics to figure out – I trust the astrophysicists to figure out how we’re actually going to move off Earth and survive, though I hope this doesn’t have to happen until after my lifetime. But science fiction film and books don’t always have a direct link to the scientists of NASA – enter Mary Roach! If the filmmakers of The Martian didn’t take a look at Packing for Mars or any other additional source material for actually living on Mars, I’d be surprised.

With the ever increasing temperatures on earth, as well as other troubles, it’s no surprise off-world action adventure movies have become more and more popular. Originally I thought Packing for Mars would make the great basis for a movie, but I’ve now realized it can serve as a popular science companion to The Martian, Passengers, and a whole host of other off-world science fiction adventures.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback – $15.95 – 9780393339918 – 334 pages – originally published August 2010, this edition published April 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company – average Goodreads rating 3.94 out of 5 – read May 2019

Non-Fiction, Psychology

Calm the F*ck Down by Sarah Knight

I’ve always been a worrier, and in my adult life was diagnosed with anxiety and suffer from panic attacks. But, I try to find books to help me cope that are helpful, but not overly serious. Calm the F*ck Down seemed like it would fit the bill.

Synopsis

From the back cover:
Do you spend more time worrying about problems than solving them? Do you let unexpected difficulties ruin your day, and do “what ifs” keep you up at night? Sounds like you need to calm the f*ck down. Just because things are falling apart doesn’t mean YOU can’t pull it together. Whether you’re stressed about sh*t that hasn’t happened yet or freaked out about sh*t that already has, the NoWorries Method from “anti-guru” Sarah Knight helps you curb the anxiety and overthinking that our making everything worse. Calm the F*ck Down explains the four faces of freaking out – and their flipsides, How to accept what you can’t control, productive helpful effective worrying (PHEW), the three principles of dealing with it, and much more!

Review

Ugh. I like Sarah Knight, I like her sense of humor. And I broke my no bestsellers rule for this book. The entire book is summed up by its subtitle: “How to control what you can and accept what you can’t so you can stop freaking out and get on with your life.” Great – how do I do that? Sarah starts by talking about how she did it – moved to a Caribbean island. Thanks Sarah. Think I can pull that off? No.

Everyone’s anxiety is different, a point Sarah acknowledges. And I think if this book were my first trip to the anxiety self-help book subgenre, I’d react to what she’s writing a lot differently. I’d probably find bits and pieces of it helpful, but it really boiled down to the fact that everything she said I’d a, heard before, and b, contributed to making my anxiety worse, not better.

Sarah is not a fan of the current president of the US. That’s okay, I refuse to use his name and love Alyssa Mastromonaco so I think that should make my position quite clear. But please, I need help dealing with my anxiety over the disappearance of women’s basic rights and fear that we’re about to go to war with some of our most unstable enemies, I don’t need reminders of how much his presence in the Oval Office terrifies me. Don’t tell me to take a nap and deal with it tomorrow.

While Calm the F*ck Down reminded me a great deal of my all-time favorite self-help book, You’re Not That Great (But Neither is Anyone Else) and I appreciated Elan’s approach to dealing with disappointment and accepting that we are not all going to be the best at everything (especially when anxiety is triggered by a need for perfection). I feel like Sarah ran away from the causes of her anxiety, and then attempts to help other people from her tropical paradise, which undercuts her credibility in my eyes. Elan Gale might be a Hollywood producer, but I found his position much more relatable.

Rating: 5 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover – $19.99 – 9780316529150 – 304 pages – published December 2018 by Little, Brown and Company – average Goodreads rating 3.47 out of 5 – read in April 2019

History, Non-Fiction, STEM

The Lion in the Living Room by Abigail Tucker

As my own little lion in the living room has been having a tough go of it lately (2 emergency trips to the vet in the past month…) my curiosity got the better of me (as it often does her) and I looked into why our house cats behave the way they do.

Synopsis

From the Back Cover:
The correct reaction to a house cat isn’t “awww.” It’s awe. We house and feed them, caress and obsess over them. How did these tiny creatures become so powerful? Science writer Abigail Tucker embarks on a remarkable adventure through history, evolutionary biology, and pop culture to discover the origins and consequences of our feline obsession. A tour de force of science writing, The Lion in the Living Room is the fascinating story of how cats conquered the world and the human heart.

Review

I have always heard that cats, unlike dogs, cannot be tamed or domesticated. And until I went to college and my roommate insisted on getting a cat, I was firmly a dog person. I’d grown up with a loving mutt, Sandiy (yes, that’s how we spelled his name), and was devastated when he died of cancer when I was 19. I firmly believed when I graduated college, I’d get another dog. Her name would be Hermione, and she’d be a pointer. I had it all planned. Senior year, my roommate Kelly brought home a male Russian Blue kitten whom we named Recchi and taught to play floor hockey. He was a delightfully playful cat, but a supreme troublemaker, and solidified my desire for another dog.

And then I met my future husband senior year, a tried and true cat lover who cold shouldered just about every dog he’s ever met. The summer after graduation he desperately wanted a cat. And, shockingly, a tiny little kitten showed up in his mom’s garage. I thoroughly believe he willed her into existence. Of course, we had to keep her. He nursed her and coddled her, while ensuring that I did the dirty work of taking her to the vet. Ben had just finished reading the five books of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series and the show had just started airing, so we named her Arya. And she lives up to her name.

My cat has resting bitch face. She always looks like she’s plotting my murder and that’s her, now 8 years old, showing her face through the banister posts on the stairs. Hence, the curiosity – is my cat still a killer carnivore and hunter on the inside? The short answer, according to The Lion in the Living Room, is yes. Cats have evolved remarkably little since they first started to co-habitat with humans. They show some telltale signs of domestication, but for the most part, they still very closely resemble their larger wild cousins.

While parts of The Lion in the Living Room can get a bit repetitive, overall, it’s a neat book exploring the evolution and habits of house cats, as well as how different their lives are alongside humans compared to those cats who are still feral. From diet and exercise, to general demeanor, Abigail Tucker knows what her readers are most curious about. After every chapter, I’d look over at Arya, and see everything I read in her behavior. Overall, a very informative and often funny book, the perfect gift for the cat lover in your life, or for someone with the inexhaustible curiosity of a cat!

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback – $16.00 – 9781476738246 – 256 pages – originally published October 2016, this edition published September 2017 by Simon & Schuster – average Goodreads rating 3.61 out of 5 stars – read May 2019

Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Travel

Second Wind by Nathaniel Philbrick

This weekend my father came out to visit and stay with my husband and I in our new house to help us do some outdoor work. He was the first overnight visitor to the new abode, and he slipped and fell, injuring his shoulder. I blame myself, and was reminded of all the other times he’s told me not to worry about him, and one that stands out is when he flipped his little Sunfish sailboat over in the lake. I gave him Second Wind for Christmas last year and now that we’ve both read it, it felt time for a review.

Synopsis

From the Inside Flap:
In the spring of 1992, Nathaniel Phibrick was in his late thirties, living with his family on Nantucket. Feeling stranded, he longed for that thrill of victory he once felt after winning a national sailing championship in his youth. Was it a midlife crisis? It was certainly a watershed for the journalist-turned-stay-at-home dad, who impulsively decided to throw his hat into the ring, or water, again.

With the bemused approval of his wife and children, Philbrick used the off-season on the island as his solitary training ground, sailing his tiny Sunfish to its remotest corners, experiencing the haunting beauty of its tidal creeks, inlets, and wave-battered sandbars. On ponds, bays, rivers, and finally at the championship on a lake in the heartland of America, he sailed through storms and memories, racing for the prize but finding something unexpected about himself instead.

Review

My father has loved sailing for as long as I can remember. As a builder and contractor, he’s had the opportunity to build many houses, but the one that made him happiest was his own, lakefront house in south central Pennsylvania. And with said house, came the opportunity to sail. And for just as long, it’s been my favorite pastime of his, and one to share. Just don’t ask me to get in the boat with him – the aforementioned flipping was done for fun.

Second Wind seemed like a logical book to give him for Christmas, now that he’s starting to slow down with the building a bit (though this recent injury may lay him up for longer than he would like) and take some more time to pursue leisurely activities. The sailboat is no longer one of them (he no longer resides on a lake), but can vicariously live through Nathaniel Philbrick.

If looking for a leisurely story about one man’s journey to find himself and reclaim some lost youth by reconnecting with nature and the seemingly distant past of sailing, Second Wind is perfect. It’s not my favorite Philbrick, but it certainly like the breath of fresh air that powers his sails – the perfect recovery book – one to be read after heavier fare or finishing a long series. It asks little of the reader’s brainpower and seeks only to share a story. As I’m also reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, I can definitely recommend it to readers who enjoyed his adventure of the Appalachian Trail.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Second Wind

Essays, History, Non-Fiction, Sociology

Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism by Kristen R. Ghodsee

Back in November I joined Libro.fm as they provide advance listening copies (ALCs) for booksellers. Libro.fm is the indie version of Audible with similar terms and selection. I finally put my free membership to good use and listen to Kristen R. Ghodsee’s book.

Synopsis

From the Inside Flap:
Unregulated capitalism is bad for women. If we adopt some ideas from socialism, women will have better lives – and yes, even better sex.

American women today are encouraged to lean in and pursue professional success, all while juggling relationships and the responsibilities of raising kids. But they face a rigged economic system that makes “having it all” impossible. What if there’s an alternative?

Kristen R. Ghodsee has spent years researching what happened to women in countries that transitioned from state socialism to capitalism. She found that, when done right, socialism can lead to economic independence, better labor conditions, and a better work-life balance.

Capitalism, it turns out, is the enemy. In the workplace, capitalism creates the wage gap between the sexes so that female employees are underpaid and overworked. it reinforces gender stereotypes at home, too, where women are tasked with a second shift as caregivers.

You are not a commodity. It’s time to improve women’s lives, and Ghodsee’s book is a spirited guide to reclaiming your time, emotional energy, and self-worth.

Review

I hate the title of this book, I ranted against it every night I read it to my husband. Who eventually decided to pick it up himself and start paging through it to see what had me so angry. And he said, “I thought you’d love this book.” And I do, goodness yes, I love this book. But I hate the title. I feel like the entire premise and point of the book is lost in the sensationalist nature of the title. It’s like a click bait-y headline in my newsfeed, not the title for a book about feminism and socialism.

While I cannot begin to understand what living under state socialism was really like, I doubt it was quite as rosy as Ghodsee paints it. But this book is not really about what Soviet socialism was like, but merely uses it to compare and contrast the experience of women in the west under capitalism (primarily in the USA) and that of women in the Eastern Bloc in the days of the Iron Curtain. And while the primary argument gets a bit repetitive, it is, at its basis, the root of feminism.

Capitalism is built on women’s unpaid labor. Because women work primarily in the home, they have consistently been dependent on male family members, especially spouses, for all their basic needs, from income to health care. Under socialism, when women work outside the home and receive a fair wage, more government and public funds are put into their support with public day cares, and other facilities to assist families in care taking responsibilities. The Scandinavian system of public welfare and socialism is held up as the supreme ideology that all nations should strive for.

Whether this is feasible or not in the US, I honestly don’t know. But it certainly and intriguing point and line of questioning that Ghodsee undertakes to explore and I would be interested to see how, after the next election cycle, our system of governance might change and evolve.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $22.00 • 9781568588902 • 240 pages • published November 2018 by Bold Type Books • average Goodreads rating 3.95 out of 5 stars • read in April 2019

Why Women

Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology

So Here’s the Thing… by Alyssa Mastromonaco

I begged and begged our publisher rep for an advance copy of this book because I loved Who Thought This was a Good Idea? And when she didn’t send one, I was devastated, but of course, still read it when it arrived on the shelves for sale!

Synopsis

From the Inside Flap:
Alyssa Mastromonaco is back with a bold, no-nonsense, and no-holds-barred twenty-first-century girl’s guide to life, tackling the highs and lows of bodies, politics, relationships, education, life on the internet, pop culture, and spontaneous motorcycle trips along the Japanese coast. Whether discussing the future of diplomacy or high-profile dance-offs, working int eh West Wing or working on finding a pair of underwear that doesn’t make her look like a Teletubby, Alyssa leaves no stone unturned… and no awkward situation unexamined.

So Here’s the Thing… brings a sharp eye and outsize sense of humor to the myriad issues facing women the world over, both in and out of the workplace. Along with Alyssa’s personal experiences and hard-won life lessons, interviews with women like Monica Lewinsky, Susan Rice, and Chelsea Handler round out this modern women’s guide to, well, just about everything you can think of.

Review

I love Alyssa Mastromonaco. I did not love So Here’s the Thing… Which is upsetting to me. As a bookseller, my goal is to bridge the divide between readers and authors and also help to expose readers to something new and different. When I loved Who Thought This was a Good Idea? so much, I shared it with a middle aged woman who once walked into the store wearing a MAGA hat. She loved it. Bridging the divide, one step at at time. When she asked for So Here’s the Thing… I had to think long and hard about whether I recommended it or not.

The publisher’s marketing is misleading. Alyssa spends the first quarter of the book rallying against our president. I think everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I wouldn’t be such a big fan if I didn’t find myself often agreeing with her. However, I feel there is a time and a place for such rhetoric. And based on the marketing of this book, I felt the publisher tried to hide the truly divisive language found between the front and back cover.

Additionally, the non-political parts felt like a rehashing of anecdotes from Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? I loved it, but this felt like the fat that was trimmed from the first one. And trimmed for a reason. I understood the point of the book to be on offering helpful advice to twenty-first century women, and while I still respect Alyssa and look forward to any further books she may write, I was left incredibly disappointed by So Here’s the Thing…

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $27.00 • 9781538731550 • 240 pages • published March 2019 by Twelve • average Goodreads rating 3.92 out of 5 stars • read March 2019

So Here's the Thing

History, Non-Fiction, STEM

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson

After a few years of being without a book club to lead (I still participate in my former club), I felt the nagging urge to start one that better suited my current tastes, nonfiction! Below is my review for the inaugural book, Isaac’s Storm!

Nonfiction Book Club (2)

Synopsis

From the back cover:
September 8, 1900, began innocently in the seaside town of Galveston, Texas. even Isaac Cline, resident meteorologist for the U.S. Weather Bureau, failed to grasp the true meaning of the strange deep-sea swells and peculiar winds that greeted the city that morning. Mere hours later, Galveston found itself submerged by a monster hurricane that completely destroyed the town and killed over 6,000 people in what remains the greatest natural disaster in American history – and Isaac Cline found himself the victim of a devastating personal tragedy.

Using Cline’s own telegrams, letters, and reports, the testimony of scores of survivors, and our understanding of the science of hurricanes, Erik Larson builds a chronicle of one man’s heroic struggle and fatal miscalculation in the face of a storm of unimaginable magnitude. Isaac’s Storm is the story of what can happen when human arrogance meets the uncontrollable force of nature.

Review

So, I missed the first book club meeting of my own book club. I had to go to the Hudson Valley in New York for a book buyer’s retreat (which was a lot of fun) and so my coworker, Su, filled in for me. Three ladies showed up, a strong presence for a brand new club, and apparently they had a lively discussion. I absolutely cannot wait to join in for the next meeting – if you want to follow along with our reading from afar, check out our book club page here!

I have now read three works by Erik Larson, Dead Wake (my favorite), In the Garden of Beasts (my least favorite) and now Isaac’s Storm (my middle choice). Unlike the first two works I read, Isaac’s Storm focuses on one main storyline, that of Isaac and the town of Galveston before, during, and after the storm. Other people and places make brief appearances, but the primary narrative sticks to the Texan Gulf coast.

As one of Erik’s earliest works, it is not surprising that what we think of as his trademark storytelling style, epitomized in Devil in the White City according to my coworkers, is not present in Isaac’s Storm. It is still an enjoyable book and a fascinating portrait of the early days of the American weather service. It is also difficult to fathom that Erik wrote this book before Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf coast. The bureaucracy involved in getting word out to the area that a storm was coming is laughable, but still in place today.

Unfortunately, I walked away from Isaac’s Storm without much more than a “I’m glad I didn’t live in turn of the century Galveston.” I didn’t particularly care for Isaac and I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the townspeople mentioned throughout, they just didn’t stick with me the way the people in his other books did. It wasn’t a bad read, just not Erik’s strongest (also not surprising, at it is one of his earliest works).

Rating: 7 out of 10

Edition: Paperback • $16.95 • 9780375708275 • 336 pages • originally published August 1999, this edition published July 2000 by Vintage • average Goodreads rating 4.06 out of 5 stars • read in March 2019

Isaac's Storm