Three for Thursday: A Walk in the Woods, White Man’s Problems, and Thug Notes

Here’s another new segment for you: Three for Thursday. Don’t expect this weekly–or, monthly–but I’ve got some books to get off my chest (and shelf).

A WALK IN THE WOODS
Bill Bryson

This is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. From what my friends tell me, Bill Bryson’s other books are just as charming and hilarious–sold!

Bill, on his return to America, looks at this trail and decides he wants to walk it. Never mind that the trail is The Appalachian Trail (the capital letters makes it more daunting). Bill has no camping experience since he “stopped making dens with blankets and card tables at about the age of nine.” He doesn’t want to go it alone–that would be a long 2,100 miles–so he seeks the companionship of friends. He found one, not quite friend. Overweight and out of shape, his hiking buddy “was almost cataleptic with displeasure.”

The hijinks and tribulations would be depressing in person, but are side-splittingly funny in print. But Bryson doesn’t make this book a pure comedic romp: it’s also a touching narrative of the importance of our woodlands. It’s a testimony to our trails, a call to the wild. Each chapter seems to summarize some fact about his experience, be it that the lower 48 states are 1/3 covered in trees, or that main has 10 million acres of uninhabited trees, or that Mr. “I love Walden” Thoreau about peed his pants when in real deep woods versus a place that “he could stroll to town for cake and barley wine.”

Thanks to Blogging for Books for sending over this great book. If  you haven’t already, check out the trailer for the upcoming movie based upon the book:

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WHITE MAN’S PROBLEMS
Kevin Morris

Fact: I’ll probably listen to anything narrated by Matthew McConaughey. Throw in Minnie Driver–I’m hooked. WHITE MAN’S PROBLEMS is another case of don’t judge a book by its sinfully ugly cover.

Kevin Morris is a lawyer to the stars who decided to try his hand at writing some short stories. Unfortunately, I’ve been spoiled by Pultizer-winning Adam Johnson and Booker-winning Margaret Atwood. It’s unfair to compare Morris to these God-gifted masters of the craft. But, hey, he does alright.

No, not all of the stories are winners. Some of the stories, you get sick of hearing about privileged Californian lawyers having difficulty deciding which of the five mansion mortgages they should pay that month.  On the other hand, there are some truly touching stories, such as one about a poor kid trying to fit in at school and win over the rich family’s daughter.

Morris knows how to handle the pen; hopefully he’ll stick to the more relatable, “where we live at” type of stories in the future.

Here’s a sound clip of Morris reading one of his stories. Thank you to Audible Studios for providing this book for my listening review and for providing this clip:

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THUG NOTES
Sparky Sweets, PhD

I didn’t know what to think when I got an e-mail from a guy named Sparky Sweets, PhD. He told me about his book called THUG NOTES. I was intrigued. After clicking on the link and laughing my [another word for butt] off for the next hour, I was in love.

With as much contextual references as Cliff Notes and with the pizazz of the most endearing YouTube celebrity, Dr. Sweets lays down literature like none other. This guy’s dope.

I tried to take pictures of this hilariously profane book, but most of the censors block me. So, here’s some quote I’ve typed up with my own added censors. This is a selection from CATCHER IN THE RYE:

“On da one hand, Holden always [derogatory word for women, with an ‘in] ’bout horny bro-types treatin’ girls like [brown fecal matter] and still gettin’ dat nookie…Holden even smacks him in his grill when he won’t fess up to [the mother of all curse words] Jane.”

“…Fool never goes through wit’ it. Cuz gettin’ balls-deep in [starts with ‘M’; rhythms with “puff”] only gonna make him more adult, naw mean?”

Um….yeah. I naw what you mean. To complete the picture of summary and important themes, Dr. Sweets includes plenty of jazzy pictures. None of which I can show you here. But they get the point across.

Sparky is great in his humor and spot-on in his summaries. If you aren’t easily offended and looking for a good laugh and a bit of learning, this is the way to go. Also, check out his YouTube channel, wisecrack.

Here’s some ol’ folks reading selections from his book:

Take care you all!! Happy reading!!!

New segment: Want Wednesday

In an effort to be more like the cool kids, I’m introducing a new segment:

WHAT YOU WANT WEDNESDAY

Here’s a chance to call out the books that aren’t here soon enough. The books we want NOW!

Below are two books that I’ve been seeing EV-ERY-WHERE. From Twitter to the Washington Post, from New York to L.A., to London and down to Australia, these books are haunting me. They need to be read. Now.

PURITY
Jonathan Franzen
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The New York Times calls this book Franzen’s “most fleet-footed…and most intimate novel yet.” On the other side of the coast, the Lost Angeles Times says we need to read this controversial book due to its “fierce writing.”  Even folks here on WordPress are raving about it. BroadartVibe calls PURITY “this summer’s GOLDFINCH.” Yes, comparing it to the Pulitzer-winner. And mycompage says Franzen “writes conversational, enormously intelligent prose.”

FATES AND FURIES
Lauren Groff
Riverhead Books

I think I may need to bury my head in the sand for another month. The publicity is killing me. Riverhead’s Twitter account is posting daily quotes from the book until its release date. The Atlantic even posted a selection from the book–OMG!!!

My friends on Twitter can’t say enough about FATES AND FURIES:

Heck, there’s even freakin’ totes and ribbon-tied beach towels!!!!!!

Kirkus Reviews has it on the cover of their Fall Preview of the “most exciting books coming out this fall.” Here on WordPress, ireadnovels says this “is a literary masterpiece that defies expectation.”

Though not everyone here is a fan. Cleopatra Loves Books says “excessive use of metaphors and links to Greek mythology…for me it was all a little too much.” That actually sounds really good to me!

So those are the two books that I really want, but don’t have…yet. They whet my appetite just looking at them.

How about you? What books are on your Want Wednesday list?

Review: Speak by Louisa Hall

Speak
Speak by Louisa Hall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Have you ever lost a loved one? What if: “One day soon perhaps we will be able to build a mechanical version of the person we lost.” What if, one day there was: “An algorithm that causes the past and the present to coexist in a moment shared between humans.”

Are you scared? Curious? This is the function of SPEAK by Louisa Hall—to draw meaning over the course of centuries through intertwined perspectives. Think CLOUD ATLAS with a more pointed question. Here, you’ll be introduced to the somewhat futuristic terms like “cloud-based intelligence”, “Peer Bonding Issues”, and “10% deviation from human thought”. Within this same book you’ll go back in time, to witness a girl through her diary struggling with the still-relevant issues of love, both forced and true.

AI: “Our primary function is speech: question and response selected from memory according to a formula we speak, but there is little evidence of real comprehension.” The creator of the babybots believes he has done something special: brought memories back to life. Yet, as people see they are just stories without meaning, they become scared, frightened. “You blame me for the fact that your daughters found their mechanical dolls more human than you, but is that my fault for making a too human doll? Or your fault for being too mechanical?”

And who is the true nemesis? Is it our own fault for not being authentic in speech? True to word? Or have our desires been plugged by the screen and technology, trying to replace something that is missing? “Every day I feel parts of myself switching off. More and more…it’s just nothing. I’m becoming blank.” “Those young people stuttering, stiffening, turning more robotic than the robots they loved.”

Gaby: “How will I let people know I’m still living?”
MARY3: “I don’t know.”

We watch as a girl struggles with identity and companionship. As the man who initially inputted the memory into the machine speaks, “One day that machine will remember your words, but it won’t feel them. It won’t understand them. It will only throw them back in your face. Gifts returned, you’ll realize they’ve become empty.” Or, as he more poignantly puts it: “But what good are her words if they’re not comprehended?”

There are five character perspectives, six if you include the bot being shipped to the desert for permanent disposal and storage. One of those characters is the enigmatic, real life Alan Turing. Perhaps you know of him through the movie THE IMITATION GAME. Everyone has a desire to “fit in”, to know reciprocal love. Though physical stunting and emotional awkwardness are sometimes barriers to such dreams. Thus, the desire to create something: to achieve that goal. But is it worth it?

The questions are real and the writing is irrefutable. I leave you with one last segment from the character Mary Bradford’s diary:

“Then, silence. Words lost through holes in the sky, wasted in the vastness of night. Felt a desire to cease speaking then, for I cannot afford to lose more.
Whittier: I understand
Writer: I feel that you do.”

Happy Reading!

Review: Rising Strong by Brene Brown – a book that hugs you

Rising Strong
Rising Strong by Brené Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some books you hug. Other books hug you. Rising Strong is a book that hugs you. “Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives; it’s the process that teaches us the most about who we are.” If you haven’t gotten used to the language of Brené Brown, now’s a great time to start.

I gave Brown’s last book three stars. But dang, if that book doesn’t haunt me still. Her words—her stories—have a way of burrowing into your soul. When you are at that precipice of argument, Brené sits angelically on your shoulder saying, “Conspiracy thinking is all about fear-based self-protection and our intolerance for uncertainty.” You ask at the time of reading, “Brené, what on earth are you even talking about?” Then comes the moments where it all makes sense.

My inner nerd got excited about Rising Strong’s introduction—research!! Footnotes!! Notta. Not one (at least in the digital advanced readers copy). “I fell in love with qualitative research—ground theory research, to be specific.” What you’ll see is Brown relating her findings in personal tones. It’s like you are sitting on the couch with her with tea and biscotti in hand. Two BFFs. “I’m using research and storytelling to unpack what I’ve learned.”

Then she brings in Oprah. And Pixar. And even one of my favorite authors Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. She intertwines her stories, thick with examples and hints at research, and builds her point. Brené moves to continue her big three: vulnerability, courage, and authenticity.
As she says, her other books were about “being you” (The Gifts) and “being all in” (Daring Greatly), but here she says it’s about: “Fall. Get up. Try again.”

We’re encouraged to engage with our feelings and get curious. “Give yourself permission to feel emotion, get curious about it, pay attention to it, and practice.” Some of the bigger takeaways from Rising Strong are finding “the story I’m making up” through writing out your SFD (‘stinky’ first draft—you can replace the S-word) and strengthening the belief that people around us are doing the best they can.

Brené doesn’t think positively. She alters your way of thinking to become positive. There’s a difference. Key word: authentic. She talks about the ego: “The ego doesn’t own stories or want to write new endings; it denies emotion and hates curiosity.” She talks about shame, in “never good enough” or “who do you think you are?” to becoming “no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.”

You owe it to yourself to let Brené Brown sit upon your shoulder.

Before you go, check out this other review of RISING STRONG from my reviewing friend LadyBug (bugbugbooks).

Here’s the her TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability:

Review: A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan – A book for book lovers

A Window Opens
A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here’s an odd comparison: Elisabeth Egan’s A WINDOW OPENS is a mix of Virginia Woolf meets Mo Willems. If you know either of those authors, then you should read this book. If you know both of those authors, then you should read this book—now!


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“You had to keep the picture at a wide angle—that was the trick. The devastation was in the details.” Alice Pearse represents every mom. While “sidestepping hula hoops, a pogo stick, and two soccer balls, one deflated” she vows to do better, be it by “feeding the parking meter” to the successful ability to “take wet laundry out of the machine before it mildews”. One minute she’s painting pottery at an expensive craft shop during the “summer of Rainbow Loom”, the next she’s yelling so loudly that the “tendons in my neck ached for days.” She’s every mom. She’s you.

This book starts with innocence. Alice, a small girl playing the “Book Lady” with her beloved, cherished father. Reflecting on those long-term memory bank moments (did you see the movie Inside Out?), Alice considers, “When you’re a kid, you think you’re going to have this deep well of time with your parents when you grow up and you’re all on equal footing.” Alice grows up, as we all do, to realize that our kidlike machinations don’t follow the devised pathways. Sometimes, we’re broken.

This book broods. One of Alice’s favorite quotes—there are many references to great authors—is of Virginia Woolf. It is poignantly applicable here, “The beauty of the world…has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.” Egan toys with my heart, showing the beauty of family, of everyday life. Things change. “It was time for Alice Pearse to step up to the plate.” With her husband not getting a promotion, throwing a computer across the room, Alice began thinking she didn’t have to be at home much anymore. She seeks fulltime employment.

The job looked so good, from afar. Any book lover can attest to the apparent attractions: public book lounges where “customers would be able to browse e-books on docked tablets and then download files directly to all their devices at once.” The “plan for the lounges included fair trade-certified coffee bars and eco-friendly furniture sourced from reclaimed local materials.” There would be “waitress service, foot massages, complimentary biscotti, cup holders with mini hot plates to keep your coffee warm…oh, and unlimited gummy bears.” Who doesn’t love gummy bears?

This book is much—much!!—more than about job transition. It’s much more than about parenting. This is a book for book lovers. The question is asked about the emergence of digital media, “A rising tide lifts all boats, right?” Surely this would be better than the “carbon-based books” approach, right? Or perhaps, it’s a testament to the insidious, sneaky creep of digital control. This is a land where we’re “expected to be reachable at three o’clock in the morning via e-mail, IM, text, or FaceTime.” And besides, these days, who doesn’t play a round (or hundred) of Candy Crush between pages of Kafka, when reading on their phones?

This book is fun! Though dealing with heavy matters, Elisabeth Egan writes with spunk, pizazz, and wit. She flourishes even the most tender moments with her touches of humor: “I missed the kindergarten ice cream social, the first day of school, the first PTA meeting, Cornelius’s bordetella vaccination, and Nicholas’s dinner with a promising new client.” Certain lines just catch you. Like this one did for me, “My chubbiest, chattiest toddler was now this lanky boy of few words, whose feet I could smell from across the room.”

Alice, near the end, reflects on this quote from Marky Baker Eddy: “Home is the dearest spot on earth, and should be the centre, not the boundary, of the affections.” And as I look back upon my time spent with A WINDOW OPENS and the life of Alice Pearse, I have this to say to Elisabeth Egan: you go, girl!

“If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave.” Mo Willems

Review: Heist: The True Story Of The World’s Biggest Cash Robbery

Heist: The True Story Of The World's Biggest Cash Robbery
Heist: The True Story Of The World’s Biggest Cash Robbery by Howard Sounes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I came into this expecting Ocean’s Eleven. To my dismay, there’s no George Clooney or Brad Bitt. This is a very—very!—British book, and yet I wouldn’t even call it Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels good. I mean, come on! There’s over £53,000 on the table and we’re talking about the person’s adolescence?

I’m going to save you some time: look up the Securitas depot robbery on Wikipedia. Of course you’re not going to get all the details there, but it’ll give you the gist. In HEIST you’ll find some badass thugs doing what badass thugs do: kidnap people, tell lies to family, bind hostages, and make out with the loot. Make one of these thugs an MMA cage fighter and, yeah, this should be a killer story. But it’s not.

You blokes across the pond from my humble New England residence may appreciate this more than I. As another reviewer alluded to, the author puts a lot of “wallie” into this. Whatever that means. By golly, I listened to this book via Audible and the author sounds like he’s having a dog’s bollocks of time. Who knows, you might have a jolly or bloody good time. I don’t know the difference.

The point is, the author circles through periods of time leading up to the robbery. He starts at Adam and Eve and goes from there. Well, not quite…maybe Moses on up. Seriously though, there’s a lot of backstory that I feel distracts from the main event. Though some of it is interesting, such MMA fighting and police trouble, it doesn’t jump into the meat and potatoes—I mean, fish and chips—of it all.

Thanks to Audible Studios for providing me with a copy of this book to listen to and review.

Cheers!

View all my reviews

Worthy of all its praise, Man Booker listed The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

The Fishermen
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

James Agwu tells his sons, “What I want you to be is a group of fishermen who will be fishers of good dreams, who will not relent until they have caught the biggest catch.” He wants the best for them: Ikenna, to become a pilot; Boja, to become a lawyer; Obembe, to become a doctor; and for Benjamin, perhaps a veterinarian or college professor. Yet, poignantly, in their Igbo tribe there is no word for “scientist”.

Paulina Adaku Agwu, a spiritual and caring woman, is heavily devoted to her children. “In this part of Africa, married women often went by the name of their first child.” Paulina is known as Mama Ike. She gathers her children like “the falconer”. She defends them in a place where doors are locked at night due to the frequent armed robberies of homes, during the time of M.K.O. and after “the war”.

Although miles and oceans away, the village of Akure in Nigeria is not that different from where I live, just down the train line from the city of New York. Author Chigozie Obioma is heartfelt in THE FISHERMEN, showing the stark contrast, yet relating us one to another. “As people waived the Nigerian flags in the summer heat in faraway Atlanta, Akure slowly drowned.” Connected, yet troubling different. He shows, like many of our families, that mothers and fathers care—that brotherly bonds are near inseparable.


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“Although Christianity had almost cleanly swept through Igbo land, crumbs and pieces of the African traditional religion had eluded the broom.” The Agwu family’s village lies in close proximity to the once worshipped Omi-Ala river, now accursed by Christian zeal. The brothers, ranging in ages from 9 to 15, are like any boy in 1996, playing Mortal Kombat or watching Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Their boyish desire lead them to the river, not to become fishers of good dreams, but fishers of fun and profit.

This is where things turn. The boys meet Abulu: “he often dismantled vain kingdoms of people’s thoughts and lifted shrouds from the swaddled corpses of buried secrets.” In painstaking, near poetic tones, Obioma tells their story through the young voice of Benjamin. He talks sadly about the brothers: “It altered the shape of our lives and ushered in a transition of time when craniums raged and voids exploded.” And: “but the passion we’d developed for fighting had become like liquid frozen in a bottle and could not be easily thawed.” The brothers have trouble shaking Abulu’s prophecy: “People began to see his visions as ineluctable, and they believed he was the oracle of the scribbler of the telegraph of fate.”

This book is easy to read, yet heart-heavily difficult to absorb. Benjamin notes a saying he heard that when fear takes possession of the heart of a person, it diminishes them. We as readers are witness to that diminishing: health, faith, well-being, and relationships. The most painful of all: family.

“Hatred is a leech: the thing that sticks to a person’s skin; that feeds off them and drains the sap out of one’s spirit.” Ben’s tender spirit is evident in the writing, as he compares everyone to animals, both gentle and extreme. This makes THE FISHERMEN even more wrenching to partake as the story progresses. Ben writes, “I once heard that the heart of an angered man will not beat with verve, it will inhale and bloat like a balloon, but eventually deflate.”

This is a novel that shows similarities and contrasts. This is a novel that speaks truly. This is a novel worthy of reading.

Let’s not leave on a downer: here’s the opening to the Agwu brothers’ favorite show, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Sing along, if you know it.

You can find this book’s preview and its other glowing reviews on Amazon, here: The Fishermen: A Novel

Happy Reading!!