I’m Just a Person
Imagine that over the course of four months, you endure a brutal and exhausting illness, you lose your mother, your relationship falls apart, and you’re diagnosed with cancer. And then imagine that your job is to make others laugh. This scenario would break most people, but instead, it made Tig Notaro a household name and helped redefine her in more ways than one.
I’m Just a Person is Tig’s journey in her own words, taking us through the repeated and unexpected heartaches of loss, the awkwardness and humiliation that comes with being ill, and all the social and personal struggles that come with either of those taxing situations. And yet, she has penned a very funny, deeply moving narrative. This isn’t emotional torture porn or blandly uplifting treacle; this is hardcore honesty and sincerity told through a hilarious, sardonic lens.
Not only is it a terrific, meaningful read, but it was a wonderful guidebook that helped me be there for a friend who endured a similar loss. Knowing what to say and what not to say is just one worthwhile lesson Tig provided amongst all those laughs and poignant words.
The Game Warden’s Son
When two fishermen tried to conceal the red meat bait in their cooler, warden Steven Callan and his colleague suspected an illegal kill. Their suspicions are confirmed when they spy a flock of vultures nearby feasting on a wild burro carcass with its hind leg removed. Not for the squeamish maybe, but all in the day’s work for Steven Callan, who followed his father’s footsteps as the title suggests, and recently retired from his years with the California Department of Fish and Game. On lists of favorite careers, game warden surely comes close to the top. Even if the sun didn’t invariably shine as Callan would have us believe, life could be pretty attractive spent along the California coast protecting wildlife on land and sea.
A witty and enlightening memoir, The Game Warden’s Son brims over with tales of stake-outs using disguises and subterfuge to trap transgressors. The wardens’ experiences are a revelation as Callan describes miscreants illegally nabbing endangered abalones and duck, slaughtering deer for meat or antlers, trading in bear claws to adorn Indian jewelry, and finding other inventive ways to challenge the law.
The book outlines routine day to day work in a series of lighthearted chapters, but focuses on the offenses poachers and hunters mistakenly believe they can get away with. The book’s slang or jargon related to wildlife is a fun bonus and makes the timely account of environmental protection even more enjoyable.
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.
Confessions of a Headmaster
Confessions of a Headmaster takes the reader on a journey through one prominent California educators life and how he came to open his own highly acclaimed school that would go on to produce high-achieving graduates while taking a look back at where author Paul F. Cummins got his start and how his experience with his own education paved the way for a future generation.
Unlike the typical memoir, Confessions of a Headmaster doesn’t start at the beginning. The book is broken into several different sections, part I entitled Crossroads 1970 and Onward. Crossroads is the name of the first school Cummins opened in Southern California and became the first of many successful ventures into education reform in the area. Cummins became the headmaster of St. Augustine by-the-Sea Episcopal School in Santa Monica in 1970. Knew nothing of elementary education, no credentials. But, as he writes, the board was desperate. From there, he paints a vague picture that he came from a hippie school background where kids play guitar and have long hair. But, apparently, the board was impressed with his background and mentions his PhD from USC, BA from Stanford, Harvard MAT. Its not until part II in the book well learn more about that.
Although the memoir describes itself as working to achieve social justice through education for all youth: from children of celebrities to foster and incarcerated youth, we dont get to see the actual social justice part until the part III of the memoir: New Roads and New Visions 1990 and Onward. Confessions of a Headmaster is less of a coming into ones own story of struggle and determination of bringing social justice to minorities, but rather just the story of a man from a privileged background and how he used that to his benefit. No doubt Cummins is well regarded in education community of Southern California, and it is exciting to see that he is branching out into using his connections in communities that could use his experience.
Burn Zones: Playing Life’s Bad Hands
Jorge P. Newbery began a quest for Olympic greatness when he took up bicycle racing at the age of 19: The year was 1984, his hometown of Los Angeles was host to the Olympics, and his father had just given him a used bike. Newbery bought some books on bike racing and started training 500 miles a week. It was the burn zones he experienced in training and racingthose periods of extreme effort that separated the winners from the rest of the cycliststhat gives his new memoir its name. Burn zones became his metaphor for pushing through all the challenges hes faced as a serial entrepreneur. Focus on enduring the pain until the pace slows, he writes.
Burn Zones: Playing Lifes Bad Hands, Newburys new memoir, is a remarkable story. For decades, Newbery believed that he could win at anything he set out to do. For decades, that proved true. Indeed, his quest for the Olympics was not as farfetched as it might seem. Newbery was already accustomed to setting and reaching astonishingly high goals. He got his first job at the age of seven, delivering a daily newspaper from his Raleigh Chopper to houses in his neighborhood. Soon, he was delivering two competing dailies. At 11, he bought a used, oversize tricycle fitted out with a freezer unit: He pedaled it around his neighborhood and to various road races, selling ice cream treats. Then he started a record company and representative alternative bands. All this before he got that bike for his 19th birthday.
He didn’t make it to the 1988 Olympics, but participated in distance racing around the country. His first significant failure, he writes, came when he fell ill during a 21-day stage race in Mexico. He couldn’t finish the race. He returned home and drove himself harder, training more and losing so much weight that his family started calling him Skull. When he developed bronchitis, he decided it was time to look around for a new challenge. He met someone in the mortgage business and was intrigued both by what she did and how much money she made. So he got his real estate license, his first Brooks Brothers suit and a job as a loan originator. A few years later, he joined forces with a partner to launch a mortgage company. He soon started buying up rental properties in Los Angeles. He started with small properties, and then branched out to larger properties around the country. His specialty was acquiring housing projects in distress and turning them around. At the peak of his real estate business, he owned more than 4,000 apartments and a net worth in the tens of millions of dollars.
Then, in 2004, a natural disaster struck one of his largest properties, the 1,100 unit Woodland Meadows in Columbus, OH. Virtually overnight, he lost everything: Tens of millions of dollars and thousands of apartments. He was crushed and $26 million in debt. He was not yet 40. He struggled with his losses and the shame of his very public failure, negotiating debt relief and trying to figure out what he should be learning from the crisis and how he could go on. In the midst of his struggles, he got a call for help from a friend who was losing her house to foreclosure. He wasn’t able to help her; he had too much debt of his own. But the call got him thinking about all of the people in similar situations: Too much debt, unaffordable mortgages, and far too close to losing their homes. He started formulating a plan for his future. He would create a business designed to help others, staggered by crushing debt, to stay in their homes. He founded the business, American Homeowner Preservation, and today runs it out of Chicago.
Newburys story of winning, losing everything, then rebuilding a life in which his purpose is helping others rebuild their lives makes for a compelling read. Not every reader will share his unrelenting drive and focus or his taste for risk-taking, but his telling of despair and humiliation at the darkest hours and how he turned his loss into strength and success are both thrilling and inspirational.
So As I Was Saying . . .: My Somewhat Eventful Life
The prescient quote above was taken on another dark day in American history, but it rings as true today; nothing has really changed.
For many years the author of this book, Frank Mankiewicz travelled with Robert Kennedy as his Press Secretary. Although Mankiewicz was born to movie industry heavy weights, he preferred to enter the world of politics. He helped found National Public Radio, served as a regional director of the Peace Corps and a mentor to many presidents and presidential contenders.
This is a “as told to” book based on the conversations the writer had with Mankiewicz over many years. Thus the book is anecdotal in nature. With such an interesting subject, I would have preferred a full on biography. I wanted more personal information about this famous player in American politics.
This book is filled with fragments and stories from a famous life and the people he knew. There are nice photographs included of Mankiewicz’s famous father, uncle, and family. If you have no famous favorite uncle to tell you stories, then this is the book for you.