Book Review: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David SedarisTitle: Me Talk Pretty One Day
Author: David Sedaris
Publisher: LittleBrown and Company
Paperback: 272 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library Overdrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

David Sedaris’ move to Paris from New York inspired these hilarious pieces, including the title essay, about his attempts to learn French from a sadistic teacher who declares that “every day spent with you is like having a caesarean section”.

His family is another inspiration. You Can’t Kill the Rooster is a portrait of his brother, who talks incessant hip-hop slang to his bewildered father. And no one hones a finer fury in response to such modern annoyances as restaurant meals presented in ludicrous towers of food and cashiers with six-inch fingernails.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This has been on my to-read list for way too  long, and I’ve been trying to wait until the audiobook’s availability on OverDrive and my available free time to listen to an audiobook reached a happy meeting point, but it never did. So, I checked out a printed version of this collection, and I have to admit I regret it just a little bit.

There is nothing like hearing David Sedaris read his own essays — the intonation and life he gives to them is astounding, and I live for listening to his audiobooks. I think this is the first time I’ve actually ever read his essays in print, and to be fair, it wasn’t as disappointing as I thought it would be. Even without his voice to clue me in on his sarcasm, his essays were still pretty funny.

With that said, I think this collection is sadder than most. My favorite collection of his is still When You Are Engulfed in Flames. While this one has funny moments, I found a lot of it to be depressing, hence my rating. But, the ones I did enjoy, I really enjoyed. The speech therapy story is ridiculous and perfect and has everything about school that I hated. There are also a few stories about him trying to acclimate himself to France and learn the French language. His essays about living in France from When You Are Engulfed in Flames are among my favorite from that collection, and it’s no different from this collection. There’s just something wonderfully hysterical about how Sedaris looks at his own experiences of adapting to a new culture and new language.

Overall, I enjoyed myself. If you’re at all into humorous creative non-fiction essays, then I’d say you should give these a shot. I think I’m going to put a hold on the audiobook for Me Talk Pretty One Day to see if I enjoy it anymore. I particularly want to hear Sedaris read his speech therapy story.

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Book Review: The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

Autobiography of Malcolm X.jpgTitle: The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Authors: Malcolm X, Alex Haley
Publisher: Ballantine
Paperback: 466 pages
Source: Owned
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

From hustling, drug addiction and armed violence in America’s black ghettos Malcolm X turned, in a dramatic prison conversion, to the puritanical fervour of the Black Muslims. As their spokesman he became identified in the white press as a terrifying teacher of race hatred; but to his direct audience, the oppressed American blacks, he brought hope and self-respect. This autobiography (written with Alex Haley) reveals his quick-witted integrity, usually obscured by batteries of frenzied headlines, and the fierce idealism which led him to reject both liberal hypocrisies and black racialism.

Vilified by his critics as an anti-white demagogue, Malcolm X gave a voice to unheard African-Americans, bringing them pride, hope and fearlessness, and remains an inspirational and controversial figure.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Andrew’s second major in college was African-American studies, so there’s a lot of African-American literature he’s read that I have not, so when his turn came up to recommend a book for me to read, he recommended this one. Mostly because it’s an amazing book about a man who made history with his dedication to civil rights, but also because I refuse to watch movies based on books before reading the book, and he really wants to watch the Denzel Washington Malcolm X movie with me, so there we go.

This one took me a while. It was a little frustrating, because I felt like it held up the other books on my reading list. The print is small and it reads like a textbook — there’s just a whole lot to digest in all the words on the page. I took my time with it because I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it justice skimming and not giving it my full 100% attention. However, it’s so worth it. Reading this book and learning about this man who was raised from the slums to a prominent figure in the civil rights movement is something that I think everyone absolutely needs to do at some point in their life. I feel like just from reading this, I understand so much more about the civil rights movement and the context in which it was fought.

The best part is reading how Malcolm X grows as a person. It’s so interesting, because I found myself making judgments about him and his beliefs, but that reaction is only because he’s so honest about his feelings and thoughts. The most rewarding/interesting part of this book for me was seeing how Malcolm develops his viewpoints and changes his opinions based on each new experience. In that way, it’s an incredibly engaging read because of Malcolm’s ability to continuously learn more and inform himself about the world. I found myself growing and changing right along with him — it was an intense reading experience, to say the least.

I always find it hard to judge a non-fiction book. The most I can say is that I found it rewarding and informative — despite the fact that it’s told from Malcolm himself, this book gives an honest no-holds barred look at Malcolm and his life, and it is one of the best subjects you can inform yourself upon. I highly recommend it.

Book Review: Andre the Giant – Life and Legend

andre the giant life and legendTitle: Andre the Giant: Life and Legend
Author: Box Brown
Publisher: First Second
Paperback: 240 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Andre Roussimoff is known as both the lovable giant in The Princess Bride and a heroic pro-wrestling figure. He was a normal guy who’d been dealt an extraordinary hand in life. At his peak, he weighed 500 pounds and stood nearly seven and a half feet tall. But the huge stature that made his fame also signed his death warrant.

Box Brown brings his great talents as a cartoonist and biographer to this phenomenal new graphic novel. Drawing from historical records about Andre’s life as well as a wealth of anecdotes from his colleagues in the wrestling world, including Hulk Hogan, and his film co-stars (Billy Crystal, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, etc), Brown has created in Andre the Giant, the first substantive biography of one of the twentieth century’s most recognizable figures.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Alyssa:

I was interested in this book for two reasons. The first is that Andrew loves Andre the Giant, and I wanted to see if he’d like this book as well. The second is that I was intrigued about using a comic format for a biography, so I wanted to see how it would work.

Overall, I think that it’s a success. This isn’t an incredibly detailed account of Andre the Giant’s life, but it covers the main information and gives enough facts and tidbits to make it an interesting read. Also, with the comic format, the story moves very quickly — I think I finished this in a few hours. The illustration style lends itself well to how the author portrays Andre’s life — very simple and straightforward. I learned a few things I didn’t know about Andre and I truly enjoyed getting to know about his life as a wrestler, since the only thing I actually had any previous information on was his work on The Princess Bride.

Andrew:

I love Andre the Giant. My love for him started through my favorite movie, The Princess Bride. Because of that, I already knew many of the stories about him from that era. (If you’re interested in that, As You Wish by Cary Elwes is a wonderful source for that.) In the past, I’ve also had a passing interest in wrestling history, particularly in the era before I was born, when many people really didn’t know that the stories in wrestling were fake.

After hearing Alyssa’s recommendation, I was interested to see Andre’s story told in this format. I think it’s really fitting, since he’s seen as a superhero-esque character in the wrestling world. I really enjoyed the novel overall. The narrative could have been more cohesive, and I had heard a lot of the stories before, but I think that it lends itself quite well to the format and it was really cool to see the stories told this way.

“Waiting on Wednesday: Quiet Power – The Secret Strengths of Introverts by Susain Cain “

New WoW

“Waiting on Wednesday” is an event that spotlights unpublished books we’re waiting for. It’s hosted by Breaking the Spine

Quiet PowerTitle: Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts
Authors: Susan Cain, Gregory Mone, Erica Moroz
Illustrator: Grant Snider
Publisher: Dial Books
Hardcover: 288 pages
Expected Publication Date: 3 May 2016
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Susan Cain sparked a worldwide conversation when she published Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. With her inspiring book, she permanently changed the way we see introverts and the way introverts see themselves.

The original book focused on the workplace, and Susan realized that a version for and about kids was also badly needed. This book is all about kids’ world—school, extracurriculars, family life, and friendship. You’ll read about actual kids who have tackled the challenges of not being extroverted and who have made a mark in their own quiet way. You’ll hear Susan Cain’s own story, and you’ll be able to make use of the tips at the end of each chapter. There’s even a guide at the end of the book for parents and teachers.

This insightful, accessible, and empowering book, illustrated with amusing comic-style art, will be eye-opening to extroverts and introverts alike.

I have yet to read Susan Cain’s original book, but I love the idea of making this information and insight available at a more readable level for young people. I think that a lot of kids and teens can benefit from learning about the difference between being an introvert and extrovert and the strengths that each personality trait can give you. I’m excited to see how this book can be worked into a classroom or lesson, with Andrew’s classroom or with others. I think just having it available to students in general is a good idea.

Book Review: A Slip of the Keyboard – Collected Nonfiction by Terry Pratchett

slip of the keyboardTitle: A Slip of the Keyboard – Collected Nonfiction
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Doubleday
Hardcover: 323 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Terry Pratchett has earned a place in the hearts of readers the world over with his bestselling Discworld series — but in recent years he has become equally well-known and respected as an outspoken campaigner for causes including Alzheimer’s research and animal rights. A Slip of the Keyboard brings together for the first time the finest examples of Pratchett’s non fiction writing, both serious and surreal: from musings on mushrooms to what it means to be a writer (and why banana daiquiris are so important); from memories of Granny Pratchett to speculation about Gandalf’s love life, and passionate defences of the causes dear to him.

With all the humour and humanity that have made his novels so enduringly popular, this collection brings Pratchett out from behind the scenes of the Discworld to speak for himself — man and boy, bibliophile and computer geek, champion of hats, orangutans and Dignity in Dying.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I’ve unfortunately read too little of Terry Pratchett in the past years, and the only excuse for it is that I’ve been reading so much of everything else, which isn’t much of an excuse, I’ll admit. Luckily, my fiancé, Andrew, is a fan of his, so I’ve been delving a bit more into his work. (I’m currently reading Good Omens, which is turning out to be fantastic.)

I started this book for a few reasons:

  1. I have a bad habit of reading at work during the dead time in between appointments, and it’s better if I’m reading a collection of short stories or essays, because once I finish a short story, I’ve gotten my fix and I’m back to being productive and doing what I’m getting paid to do.
  2. It was available on OverDrive at my library.
  3. Andrew loves non-fiction, so I thought I’d read this to see if I thought he’d be interested in adding this to his to-read list, though I know that being with me has probably added a few too many books to that list. (Even though they are really just so good.)
  4. I think it’s interesting to know the person behind the writing, either before or after I’ve met that person through their stories. It’s a bit backwards from what traditionally happens in this case, but I think that I’ll be able to better appreciate his work now knowing some of his thoughts behind life, living, and stories.

I truly enjoyed this book. I agree with Pratchett on many things and reading the words of someone who loves words and stories so much is deeply gratifying. Some of these stories were sad, as he talks about his struggle with Alzheimer’s and his thoughts about assisted death, but I think he offers useful insights from his experiences. For those of us who have studied writing or write in some way, he puts a humorous viewpoint on how we get our work done and how we feel about it before, during, and afterwards, which I truly enjoy. I think that writing is at once a unique and universal thing — we all, after all, tell stories. Getting someone else’s viewpoint on the process is at once relieving and fascinating, as there are often so many similarities to my own experience with it.

Besides the similarities, though, I loved learning fun new facts about Pratchett and his life. Reading about his hat collection, adventures (or non-adventures) on book tours, and getting to know him a little bit better was a wonderful experience that I greatly appreciated.

The only complaint I had is that because of the way the book is set up, some of his thoughts and arguments become repetitive. In real life, nobody would have noticed, because he wrote these essays years, even decades apart, but having them collected together, sorted by theme, I felt like some of the essays were almost the same as the others. Not his fault, of course, and I didn’t enjoy the book any less, but if you’re going to read this, I do recommend taking your time through it so that you don’t feel frustrated with the repetition.

I recommend this to all writers, readers, and fans of Terry Pratchett. It’s a solid collection, and I can’t imagine there being anyone who wouldn’t enjoy at least two works from this book.

Favorite Quotes:

“Keep an eye on the trade press. When an editor moves on, immediately send your precious MS to his or her office, with a covering letter addressed to said departed editor. Say, in the tones of one engaged in a cooperative effort, something like this: ‘Dear X, I was very pleased to receive your encouraging letter indicating your interest in my book, and I have made all the changes you asked for.…’ Of course they won’t find the letter. Publishers can never find anything. But at least someone might panic enough to read the MS.”

“The first thing I do when I finish writing a book is start a new one. This was a course of action suggested, I believe, by the late Douglas Adams, although regrettably he famously failed to follow his own advice.

“People are magnificent research, almost the best there is. An old copper will tell you more about policing than a textbook ever will. An old lady is happy to talk about life as a midwife in the 1930s, a long way from any doctor, while your blood runs cold.”

Book Review: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.jpgTitle: Into Thin Air
Author: Jon Krakauer
Publisher: Anchor Books
Paperback: 333 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that “suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down.” He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more–including Krakauer’s–in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer’s epic account of the May 1996 disaster.

My Review:

Again, I was surprised by how much I liked this book. Either I need to stop listening what my friends say about required reading, or I should raise my expectations of “classics.” (Or both.)

Into Thin Air is both thrilling and terrifying. Not that I was considering it, but I will now never take mountain climbing as a hobby — especially mountains where high-altitude sickness is a problem. Krakauer includes the history of Mount Everest along with the day-to-day events of his expedition, which added an interesting, enjoyable element to the novel. Not only was I reading a great story, I felt like I was learning a lot too.

Into Thin Air is a tragic story that is wonderfully told. The level of detail included in the descriptions is remarkable. I felt like I was climbing Everest with the author, going through the same psychological and physical torture. I also got to know those who climbed with him, sharing in their successes and failures. I want to note that there is a controversy as to whether the events happened like Krakauer said they happened; I am sure, with all that was going on at the time, that there are discrepancies with events, but I doubt that they are serious since he also interviewed multiple people who were there as well.

I would recommend this book for anyone who is at all interested in adventure or memoirs. If you’re squeamish, you should maybe stay away, since there are descriptions of some pretty awful sights and diseases (I got queasy more than a few times). However, I think that Into Thin Air is a novel most people will find a worthwhile read.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Audiobook Review: When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

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Title: When You Are Engulfed in Flames
Author: David Sedaris
Narrator: David Sedaris
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Length: ~ 9 hours
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

Trying to make coffee when the water is shut off, David considers using the water in a vase of flowers and his chain of associations takes him from the French countryside to a hilariously uncomfortable memory of buying drugs in a mobile home in rural North Carolina. In essay after essay, Sedaris proceeds from bizarre conundrums of daily life-having a lozenge fall from your mouth into the lap of a fellow passenger on a plane or armoring the windows with LP covers to protect the house from neurotic songbirds-to the most deeply resonant human truths. Culminating in a brilliant account of his venture to Tokyo in order to quit smoking, David Sedaris’s sixth essay collection is a new masterpiece of comic writing from “a writer worth treasuring” (Seattle Times)

My Review:

I have never laughed so hard in my life than when I listened to this.  Seriously, whenever I’m having a bad day or I know something stressful is coming up, I listen to these essays. Sedaris takes weird stuff that happens in life and turns them into hilarious and insightful pieces that entertain and give a whole new look at the absurd situations life frequently contains.

It’s hard to give a long review of this, because they’re composed of non-fiction essays, so there isn’t really a long plot line to critique or character development to discuss. I will just say that this collection will have you laughing out loud and will make you look differently at weird situations that arise in your own life.

Note: The reason why I put the audiobook information down is because I highly recommend listening to his essays rather than just reading them. Hearing them in Sedaris’s own voice with his intonations really sets the tone and adds to the comedy.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5