Scrappy Little Nobody
Anna Kendrick may be one of the most relatable celebrities today. Step inside her life and as deep into her mind as she’ll let you with her first essay collection, Scrappy Little Nobody. This frank and incisive foray into Kendrick’s world and her perspective on nearly everything is incredibly entertaining. Each essay chronicles a major event in her life, perfectly told with refreshing humor and occasional social commentary. She details her childhood and steady rise into fame—one she is incredibly proud of because she worked doggedly toward whatever goal she set. Movies, theater, awards shows, and more are covered in an all-too-short read.
Regardless of your opinion on Anna Kendrick, this is a fantastic book. She writes with her distinct voice and subversive humor. She’s funny and quirky, with fierce intelligence and a deep passion for her craft. It’s an infectious read that will have you laughing out loud, pausing in thought, and considering how likely it is you could befriend her. Scrappy Little Nobody is simply a great read. Pick up a copy and share it with your friends–you won’t regret it.
There is something profoundly fearless about Astonishments the new book by author Marian Armstrong Rogers. The book begins with images, memories of a long remembered and revisited moment in the authors’ life. A brown-shingled house on a hill, a collie dog, a school assembly, and a blue-eyed boy named Johnny. Johnny the young man would become her first husband. Yet despite the fairytale setting of the couple’s early years, each passage is written by the adult Rogers with muted notes of regret. Married life turns into parenthood. Mental illness and an affair quickly follow. Her second husband, Sam, brings to the story a heightened sense of love renewed, until he develops Alzheimer’s disease.
This is an unusual biography, there is an openness from the very beginning. The author is exposed and makes no attempts to pull the reader back or gloss over details. The mental associations found in the book are vast and vivid throughout this fast-moving book.
Honest and courageous, Astonishments is a book everyone should read as the progress and look back on their lives. Its’ a literary undertaking anyone should embark on whenever they need perspective or assess their future.
One of the most fascinating aspects about reading this compelling book is how much of a page-turner it truly is, and just how addicting it becomes. This is a rare achievement for a work of nonfiction and a near impossibility for a memoir or biography. Yet, the author’s voice is so rich and strong, that it seems to reach in and pull the reader forward. Those who don’t naturally enjoy nonfiction may complain about the level of descriptive details and the flowery recollections of the author. To such complaints I will only reply with a mild eye roll. This is a work of such merit, that it could serve on the defense of CreateSpace, as a perfect embodiment of what an author can achieve in this new exciting era of publishing.
Which brings me to the one frustration I have with the project, and its a real legitimate concern that I feel limits the authors’ book. This fine memoir was published through Amazons’ CreateSpace and not a traditional publisher. This gave her more freedom in the books structure, but denies her additional exposure. Despite this one personal concern, I still have very high hopes for this book. Marion Armstrong Rogers is a fine author and she should be very proud.
Today, the phrase Drink the Kool-Aid may be one of the only widely known legacies of the Jonestown mass murder-suicides that happened November 18, 1978. Those born since that date likely have no idea where the phrase originated, even as those who were alive thirty-seven years ago surely know but give little thought so many years later to the event that occurred in far-off Guyana. The deaths of 909 people, almost all brought about by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid (not, technically, Kool-Aid brand), were the largest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until September 11, 2001, as Wikipedia put it.
Kathryn Barbours memorial album of Who Died that tragic day is a sobering reminder that hundreds of good people lost their lives even as they had high hopes for living together in harmony, regardless of color or gender, sharing and working together. Barbour writes that she was a member of the Peoples Temple in California and knew many of the individuals pictured: the photographs show the dead as I last saw them, in 1976-1977, when Peoples Temple was at the height of its influence in San Francisco, its members full of energy and confidence.
The seventy-nine glossy pages with mostly full-color photographs memorialize every single person who was lost, with just a few spaces empty of a photo. Its a yearbook of the saddest kind, a remembrance of remarkable peopleaware, self-assured, and focused; of children of varying ages, of blacks and whites aspiring together for a better society free from the racial tensions of the time. Whenever there is a mass death we tend to think purely in numbers; we mourn but are still somehow separated from the reality of so many full lives being snuffed out. Who Died is valuable in its naming of each person, putting a photograph to each life lost. It will be a treasure for families and friends of the dead; it will be an important addition to libraries; it is a fine way for anyone to appreciate that whenever a mass killing happens, individuals are the casualties, and each life mattered.
Cancer Country: A Survivor’s Memoir
Cancer Country is, as Chet Skibinski puts it, “a guide through my foreign country. It’s an armchair travel guide, safely away from the real thing.” In 2008, at 66 years of age, Skibinski is told that he has a rare and aggressive form of cancer called angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma. After six months of chemotherapy, Skibinski is considered cancer-free and in remission. That all changes a few months later when he receives a dismal prognosis of stage four lymphoma, this time affecting the bone marrow. Skibinski adds lightheartedness to a dark almost two-year season of his life.
Retired high school English teacher-turned-author, Chet Skibinski takes readers on a trip through his bizarre experiences with a disease “so rare, that only one in a half million Americans get it.” A relatively healthy man at the time, bar some peculiar itching, Skibinski takes to the drastic overnight morphing of his well being like an out-of-body experience. Certain that there has to be a cure, he begins to look for solutions…anywhere. And with, as Skibinski says, “absurdly optimistic illusions,” he explains how he approaches this foreign substance that has chosen to wreak havoc on his life. Skibinski’s candid storytellingreminiscent of George Carlin’s incessant tongue-in-cheek commentaries except with a light sprinkling of expletivesis absolutely dead honest and nothing less than hilarious.
Covering just about every emotion imaginable, and then some, as well as many sleepless nights, Skibinski fills these highs and lows with his crazy imagination, fixations with English Lit, and his love for a Porsche Cayman, amid extremes of fears and worries over medical protocol and test results to the mundane near-insane waiting periodsall surrounded by clever comparisons and multihued metaphors. A few great comparison examples include how chemo chemicals let loose in Skibinski’s body are much like a frat party or the Hells Angels in some small California town and how he associates his life after the bone marrow transplant to that of a factory turkey. And then there is this comedic, yet profound, line: “Adding up a person’s possessions at the end to determine the value of a lifetime seems about as irrational as doing an inventory at Walmart minutes before the coffin is lowered.”
Closing on an encouraging note, Skibinski’s sums up his account with this reflection: “Cancer takes a lot out of you, and one thing that it takes is optimismthat casual sort of optimism that you assumed was there all the time and would always be there, as dependable as a beating heart or a sunrise.” Funny and engaging, Cancer Country is, undoubtedly, an eye-opening must-read.
Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams
Louisa Adams was the sixth First Lady of the United States. She was far more complicated than a simple title. Louisa Catherine Johnson was born in London to Joshua and Catherine. Her father was a merchant who wouldn’t wed Catherine until after all their children had been born. Louisa would acquire an independent streak while spending time with good friends of her parents. Louisa would meet John Quincy Adams in 1795, John originally courting Catherine’s sister. John would hold off on marriage until his law practice was established, Louisa and her parents questioning the wait. John Quincy had held a position as diplomat in Holland and had been offered a position in Prussia. He would assume the job and marry Louisa in 1797. Financial trouble with her family would lead to martial strain, Louisa would make the most of her time in Prussia socializing with the royals while enduring the pain of multiple miscarriages. The pain would eventually subside with the welcoming of sons, George Washington Adams, John Adams. She would journey to America with her family where John Quincy would be elected to the Senate. Louisa would journey with her husband and youngest son to Russia in 1809 where John Quincy reigned as ambassador. Her separation from her other children, the loss of her only daughter, and her estrangement from John Quincy made for tough times. Her marriage weathered many crises and doubts, eventually John Quincy would be elected to the Presidency in 1824, making Louisa First Lady. Unfortunately, four years of quiet would not be in the cards.
Louisa Thomas’ biography of Louisa Adams reads like a novel. The book is full of complex personalities, such as Louisa, John Quincy Adams, John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Adams, and Henry Clay. Louisa Adams is presented as a woman who loved her husband, her children, her family (Johnson & Adams), but also stubborn, depressed, and spoiled. She was possessed of a complex dynamic, but was never dull. She would be the story teller in writing her history, but not always completely honest with her readers or herself. The truth may not be what is wanted, but it is what counts.
What I’ve Learned from You: The Lessons of Life Taught to a Doctor by His Patients
The doctor/patient relationship is one of the most intimate. Vulnerable, your health in their hands, you may feel powerless and subordinate. After years of schooling, residency, and intense training, doctors seem to know everything; many of them seem to think they do. Additionally, doctors are more overworked than ever and frequently the patient/doctor relationship fails. But this isn’t always the case; every once in a while you meet a physician who takes the time to listen, who treats patients as individuals, personally. It is obvious that Scott Kelly, M.D. is such a physician, sincere when he says he feels honored to serve his patients. Dr. Kelly has written a beautiful memoir marked by humility and wonder as he recalls patients who have had a lasting impact on his life. Far from the pompous, omniscient, and aloof clinician, Kelly is all too aware of his own failings as he struggles, through medical school, residency, stints in the ER, and the tightrope balance between work and family. Although warned to keep his interactions with patients strictly professional (i.e., detached), he allows himself to open up to some of them, to listen, and then to learn. This book is his journey through those lessons.
The writing in this book is sensitive, marked with grace and absolute respect for his patients. Each of the short chapters begins with a personal memory; then Dr. Kelly introduces us to one of his patients. Each taught him an important lesson, on themes as varied as marriage, friendship, faith, happiness, responsibility, perseverance, grief, joy, and love. The book follows Dr. Kelly’s experiences mostly chronologically, so you get to experience the highs and lows of his training and residency, as he learns to keep people in the center of practicing medicine, and through his articulate character sketches, you feel that you know his patients too, or that you wish you could have. You meet Joy, whose deep faith steadied Dr. Kelly in the face of man’s inhumanity. Harrison reaffirmed the necessity of having a strong sense of purpose, and living true to yourself. Emily’s chronic, but privately-endured, pain reminded him to be gentle and compassionate–we don’t know the burdens other quietly carry. There are many others, each story told with love and sympathy, neither moralistic or pedantic. These are lessons we all, in our human endeavor, need to learn, and learn again.