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Review: One More Thing

Recap: When a book opens with a story about a tortoise and a hare, I first have to wonder if I’m reading a copy of Aesop’s Fables. But when the story turned into a version in which the hare loses and then demands a rematch against the tortoise, I knew we were no longer in Aesop’s territory. Thanks, B.J. Novak. The comedian and actor, best known for his role in The Office dives into his funny, sarcastic, sometimes dark and then surprisingly poignant mind with this collection of short stories that made me laugh and think. 

The content of many of the stories seemed random: in “Dark Matter,” a guy visiting a planetarium; in “Walking on Eggshells,” a woman set on having sex with Tony Robbins; in “MONSTER: The Roller Coaster,” a focus group selecting the name of a roller coaster. Despite the premises, they often had strong, affecting messages at the end about what matters most to us as people, about whether it’s worth it to be in a relationship that may not serve you, about things not turning out the way we expect them to. 
With some of the longer short stories, including the one from which the book got its title “Sophia,” I came to expect something poignant at the end. In the case of “Sophia,” I didn’t ever get it. 

Some stories, like “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela,” were just plain funny, an opportunity for Novak to show off his comedic writing skills. Others were simple plays on words like “If I Had a Nickel” and “If You Love Something,” good for a nice chuckle.

Analysis: As someone who’d never actually read a book of short stories, I didn’t know what to expect and wasn’t particularly excited to read it. I doubted I would enjoy it without a central story powerful enough to keep me flipping through the pages. But color me shocked when I found that I really, truly enjoyed it. Sure, some stories were better than others. Some had me scratching my head (and not in a thoughtful way, more in a what-the-hell-was-that kind of way). But I caught myself laughing several times and stopping to think about some of the stories before going on to read the next ones. I also found that because some of the stories were so short, I was able to fly through the book. How Novak came up with some of the crazy, weird, and creatively thoughtful stories is impressive and delightful.

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Review: How to Love the Empty Air

two books.jpgRecap: Like many women, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz has a special relationship with her mother. Her mother is a her best friend, her support system, and her biggest fan. So when her mom passes away, it throws her into an unexpected spiral. She is overwhelmed with grief, and when you are a writer, there’s nowhere to channel that grief but the page.

So tells the story of Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s collection of poetry, weaving us through the close bond she has with her mother, the death of her mother and the grieving process, all as she herself gets married. It’s a time in her life that includes the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, resulting in some altogether beautiful poetry and imagery — though much of it is sad.

Analysis: I’m not one to typically read poetry, nor do I consider myself necessarily good at analyzing, interpreting or understanding it. But because the poetry was about a woman who lost her mother around the time she got married, I knew I’d be able to relate. I lost my dad shortly after getting married. So much of her poetry so deeply resonated with me. It moved me to tears. It brought me chills. I was able to relate in every aspect of her mother’s illness, her mother’s passing, the months she spent mourning the loss, the comfort of her husband. But it wasn’t just that.

I was also able to connect with her professional ambition and desire to do good work and succeed. One of her poems brought me to tears when I read part of it to my husband:

“New York City, I want to return to you a better woman,/a better writer. Return to you so clean, you won’t even/recognize me, so glorious, you’ll dim your lights, so damn/grown that maybe, just maybe, I can look you in the eye.”

It’s a feeling most any woman can relate to — the need to succeed, to prove yourself, to better yourself, to shine.

It also helped that the poetry  Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz writes is free-form. Much of it feels less like poetry and more like storytelling. The book overall tells a complete story even though it’s several dozen poems. I was so impressed, and the book so changed my thoughts on poetry that I now want to reach much more of it, particularly O’Keefe Aptowicz’s works.

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Review: This Mobius Strip of Ifs

Recap: In our younger years, we are lost, with the hope that as we grow older, we’ll better understand ourselves, others, and the world as a whole. That’s what Mathias B. Freese attempts to do in his collection of personal essays This Mobius Strip of Ifs. But over and over again, he explains that “knowledge is death” and the idea of full enlightenment or “de-conditioning” as he calls it is impossible to achieve.

Though it’s not one coherent tale, Mobius does share a story about its author and the difficult cards he’s been dealt in his life. The essays were written over decades, and share anecdotes about his family, childhood, years as a teacher, and his time spent working as a psychotherapist. The first section of the book is more philosophical, whereas the second section deals with specific people — famous people — and the things they have contributed to society, and the third section is far more personal.

Throughout this collection, Freese explains what his training, studies, upbringing, interests, and “random happenstances” have taught him. He preaches what he has learned in an upfront and often shocking way.

Analysis: Often times, Freese shares a negative or cynical point of view. One could argue this is just because of the terrible things he’s had to deal with — the loss of his mother at a young age, his daughter’s suicide, his wife’s sudden death. But I don’t believe that’s the case here. It becomes clear that his point of view has been molded not only by what’s happened to him but also by what he’s studied and read over the years.

Freese is blunt and fiercely logical about the world and the way it works, often distressingly so. As an eternal optimist who believes in things like “everything happens for a reason” and “God only gives you that which you can handle,” I often found myself disagreeing with the points made in Freese’s essays. That being said, his points were almost always made with the utmost logic and realism. Whether I agree or not, I could not ignore his valid, well-explained thoughts.

This book is not a memoir. Or rather, I don’t think it’s meant to be one. After all, this is a book full of essays about what his life has taught him about life in general. But ultimately, it feels like a memoir. Upon finishing the book, I felt like I got to know Mathias B. Freese. I understand his world, his inner thoughts, and his life. I may not agree with many of his beliefs, but I’d sure love to grab a coffee with him.

Get This Möbius Strip of Ifs in paperback for $10.95.

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.


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Judy Greer Essay Collection On the Way

In movies, she’s almost always played the “best friend” (27 Dresses, The Wedding Planner). But finally, comedic actress Judy Greer is a leading lady — in nonfiction writing.

According to Entertainment Weekly, Judy Greer, who currently voices Cheryl on FX’s Archer, recently got a deal to publish her first book. It will be a collection of essays about a number of topics, ranging from her childhood in the Midwest to her career in film and TV.

Called I Don’t Know What You Know Me From, the book is tentatively set to come out sometime next year and left Greer with an advance of almost $1 million.

It’s nice to see her finally in the limelight; though I do wonder how many people will actually read a book about a woman that doesn’t have the largest following.

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Folger Shakespeare Collection Now Available as E-Books

One of the most popular and accessible versions of Shakespeare’s work is now available in e-book format. According to The New York Times, Folger Shakespeare just converted the collection a few weeks ago, featuring scene summaries and notes in the e-books.

Simon & Schuster collaborated with Folger Shakespeare to put plays like Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and The Merchant of Venice for $5.99 each.

I’m sure Shakespeare himself never expected people to be taking notes and studying his work, let alone reading it in a digital format. I would love to see how the notes and summaries play out in e-book format. Though I’ve never thought of Shakespeare in such a modern format, I think the interactivity of an e-book would only further encourage students — adults for that matter — to read his work.

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Get The Twilight Saga Complete Collection in Hardcover for $59, Down from $97

If you’re a vampire-obsessed teenager, you like have all the Twilight novels. If you’re the parent of a vampire-obsessed teen, you probably bought them. But just in case, here’s a deal on the complete collection that you can really sink your teeth into. It’s all four books —  Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn in hardcover for just $59, down from $97.

This collection is the ultimate way to learn or re-learn all the details of the crazy love story before the final movie — Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 — is released later this year. Hey, the saga may not have the morals of good vs. evil like Harry Potter, but it’s one heck of a captivating love story.

Get The Twilight Saga Complete Collection while you can.

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