Tag Archives: memoir

Review: On Becoming Fearless

fearlessRecap: A few weeks ago, I was about to embark on a new journey and decided  Arianna Huffington’s book On Becoming Fearless was the perfect book for that moment. I was scared. I was about to start a new job in a new city more than 1,000 miles away from home. I was moving up professionally, and I was overcome with anxiety. I wasn’t sleeping well, eating well,  exercising much. Quite frankly, I fell out of my routine. I thought now’s the time to work on becoming fearless.

Huffington’s book is part memoir, part self-help (mostly self-help). It’s similar in structure to Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B in that way, except Huffington’s book didn’t stem from a single traumatic event, but from a series of events and lessons learned over the course of her life. Certain moments in her past have made Huffington a somewhat controversial figure; she is disliked by many, but at the end of the day she is an incredibly successful woman. Typically a woman doesn’t achieve status like hers without going through her fair share of hardship. She uses that in this book as a force for education, so we may learn how to be fearless about our bodies, fearless in love, in parenting, at work, about money, about aging and illness and death, about leadership and speaking out, about changing the world.

In between chapters, there are sprinklings of stories written by other successful women and the lessons they’ve learned on each of these topics.

Analysis: As I expected, it was exactly the kind of book I needed in that moment. I enjoyed the stories, which made their case for the lessons they tried to prove. But unfortunately, having read it only about a month ago now, I can’t recall many specific pieces of advice that Huffington delivers. Yes, there are the obvious things: sleep more, meditate, eat better, exercise — essentially take care of yourself because your mind and body will both thank you. But some of the tactics for remaining fearless have escaped my mind. But maybe that’s really all it is: the mind. Having the right mindset, the right attitude.

Fundamentally geared more toward women, the book makes the case for “owning” whatever it is you’re battling or going through. Recognizing your worth and daring to prove it to others — or better yet, yourself. There are sections I read that don’t yet apply to me. For instance, the chapter about motherhood. I found it interesting, but know there will come a time in my life several years down the when I’ll have a strong desire to re-read this book and remind myself of the mindset of becoming fearless. Because what do we have to lose? If there’s anyone who’s fearless, it’s Arianna Huffington and like her or not, we could all stand to learn something from her about becoming fearless.

Get On Becoming Fearless in paperback now for $11.94.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: One More Time

carolburnettRecap: Carol Burnett is one of the truly great comedic icons and badass females of her generation and of our time. I was first introduced to her as Miss Hannigan from the original movie version of “Annie,” one of my favorite movies to watch growing up. She was perfect as Miss Hannigan — a villain who was more pathetic than evil, who was hilarious in her awkward gawkiness and who I was glad to see have a happy ending because you knew she wasn’t really a bad person at heart, just a desperate one. Having finally gotten around to reading her memoir from the 1980’s, I’ve come to learn that Carol Burnett was really not that different from the character she played in “Annie.”

She grew up under pretty horrible circumstances, though she didn’t realize as much until she was older. Her parents divorced at a young age and she lived with her grandma since her mother couldn’t properly take care of herself, let alone another person. When her grandmother and she finally moved to Hollywood from Texas, where her parents were already living separately, Carol started to standout as the tall, funny girl with the imaginative mind. When her illegitimate half-sister was born, she took her under her wing as though she were her own. She cared for her while focusing on her schoolwork and a potential career in journalism.

But as we all well know, things changed, and one taste on the stage had her itching to act forever. Her drive, devotion and ambition led her to UCLA and acting troups across California. A performance, a nice man and a lot of luck helped her earn enough money to go to New York and embark on the career she always wanted. But even that wasn’t as easy as she dreamed.

Analysis: Carol Burnett is a living, breathing rags-to-riches story. Yes, some of her story involved some extremely generous business men who were able to help her financially or give her references. But Burnett defined making her own luck. If not for her whipping personality, spunk and obvious natural talent and work ethic, she wouldn’t have had guts to ask for help or to keep in touch with the right people who would help her along the way.

It was amazing to read about her childhood and realize the hardship she had to overcome. Lots of “mommy issues” and lots of “daddy issues” could have been enough to break anyone. Not Carol. The entertainment industry itself is enough to break people. Not Carol. Her positivity and determination are to be admired, let alone her comedic chops. While she often talks about her many fears, it’s obvious that she’s also fearless.

Her story is more unbelievable than I could have imagined, and her writing exquisite. That’s not always the case with “celebrity” memoirs. But the truth is she was always a storyteller of some kind — acting out scenes, telling stories. Writing is another way to do that, and she’s obviously very good at it. (It’s no surprise she initially wanted to be a journalist — she has the chops.)

The updated version of her memoir, which I eventually read after accidentally leaving my first copy on a plane (whoops!) was even better because of the epilogue it includes at the end. The epilogue was added years later and tells the story of some of the additional tragedy she dealt with in her adult life. While sad, it’s an important section of the book that makes a point of showing no matter how successful you are, no matter how hard you’ve worked or where you’ve come from, we’re all people and we’re all going to have hard time to work through. Like Carol, we’ve got no choice but to keep going. One more time.

Get One More Time in paperback now for $14.53.

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Michelle Obama To Release Memoir

becomingFormer First Lady Michelle Obama has announced she will be releasing a memoir later this year.

Entitled Becoming, the book, published by Crown Publishing Group, is due to be released November 13th, according to Entertainment Weekly

The former FLOTUS announced on Twitter “Writing BECOMING has been a deeply personal experience. I talk about my roots and how a girl from the South Side found her voice. I hope my journey inspires readers to find the courage to become whoever they aspire to be. I can’t wait to share my story.”

In a release from the publisher, they wrote “Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her — from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it — in her own words and on her own terms.”

 

Get your pre-order ready, folks.

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Movie vs. Book: Julie and Julia

Recap: As her 30th birthday becomes frighteningly close, Julie Powell realizes she’s unhappy with her life. She has a wonderful husband who she’s been with since high school, but her job leaves her unfulfilled, she and her husband live in a tiny apartment and she has a condition which will likely make it extremely difficult to have children. Doctors continue to push her to have children before turning 30 since that would be her best chance for success, but she’s not ready for kids yet. Her dissatisfaction with her life leads to a fairly irrational decision. She likes to cook, so she will cook….the entire first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julie Child.

She gives herself a one-year deadline, which sounds feasible until you realize that’s 524 recipes she has to cook in 365 days, and most of them are obscenely difficult and…well…French. They include killing, cutting and cooking lobster, boning ducks and hours and hours of stewing in ovens and stovetops. The challenge is beyond difficult. She has no choice but to employ the help of her husband to buy groceries and meat. She invites friends over to enjoy the food. She keeps a blog which suddenly has readers she feels she must entertain and please. The media picks up on her blog, and Julie’s Julie/Julia Project blows up across the nation. All this happens as her friends deal with the trials and tribulations of love and lust and while Julie’s own marriage takes a backseat to her goal.

Each chapter is also interspersed with bits and pieces about the life and love of Julie Child. Her loves — like Julie — are both cooking and her husband. Much like Julia Child learning to cook at age 37, Julie is also on a search to find herself and does after quite a bit of time and hard work.

Analysis: The movie Julie and Julia is a decent adaptation of the book, cutting back and forth between Julie (Amy Adams) and Julia (Meryl Streep) as they find themselves through food. The movie includes much more of Julia Child’s story as she works to publish her first cookbook. (Right from the start, the movie acknowledges it’s sharing the stories of two different books : Julie Powell’s Julie and Juliand Julia Child’s My Life in France.) Because the movie has more Julia, it therefore has less Julie than in the book. Her fertility issues are not mentioned in the movie, nor are the side characters (Julie’s friends) and their crazy love lives. Those cuts help to make the movie a little more upbeat and uplifting and better parallel the journey of both Julie and Julia.

The best parts about both the movie and memoir are how funny they are — Meryl Streep portrays Julia Child impeccably, and Amy Adams is great at bringing Julie’s frustration, rage, determination and humor to life. Both also end in a more moving way than you might expect, but the movie’s end pales in comparison to the book’s final pages. Powell’s powerful writing about Julia Child’s death and what she ultimately learned through this journey moved me to tears and made clear that this challenge was about much more than just cooking and writing about it; it’s about the journey we all find ourselves on, and sometimes you just need to force yourself to take the first step.

Get Julie and Julia in paperback now for just $3.35.

Or get it on your Kindle for $7.99.

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Review: In the Studio with Michael Jackson

81goiajvzasRecap: He’s a Grammy Award winner. He’s worked with Quincy Jones. And you’ve probably never heard of it. Bruce Swedien is an audio engineer who’s worked in the music business for almost 60 years, and he was the primary sound engineer on Michael Jackson’s records from 1978 to 2001. When I found this book inside a more arts-oriented local bookstore, I thought Oh my God, I MUST read this. As a big Michael Jackson fan, I knew I would appreciate it. And appreciate it, I did. From the anecdotes about the star (they recorded him on a dance floor so MJ could dance while singing and the sound of his feet would remain on the record to make it feel more “Michael) to the photos (handwritten thank you notes and editing suggestions from the icon himself!), this book is chock full of fun information that would entertain any Michael Jackson fan.

The second half of the book focuses more closely on audio engineering and therefore would likely be most appreciated by those who work in that field. For anyone else — myself included — it was too technical for me to understand and not explained well enough in layman’s terms. That’s not to say the book got worse as I continued to read it, but it certainly became more textbook-like in its approach.

Anaylsis: As I already mentioned, I loved the little anecdotes about Michael Jackson and everything that went into making his big albums, including “Thriller.” I made it a point to listen to the tracks as I read the sections of the book that discussed them in detail. It heightened my awareness of the layering and production of the music and proved how complex and highly-skilled Michael Jackson and his team really were.

The book, however, was terribly written. It didn’t seem as though it was ever formally edited. There were grammatical errors as well as whole sections copied and pasted directly — appearing word for word in several different parts of the book. It was clear that Swedien wrote most of it himself, which is fine, but he is certainly more geared to audio engineering than writing. Parts of it were hard to get through for these reasons and because of the engineering jargon used that was above my head and never fully or well explained.

Get In the Studio with Michael Jackson in paperback for $16.97. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $19.99.

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2017

booksWelcome to my seventh edition of “Top Picks!” Easily one of my favorite blog posts of the year, this is where I explain which were my ten favorite books I read this year. Again, this has nothing to do with what year they came out. In fact, I’m pretty sure none of the books I read this year were published in 2017. For a list of the best books published this year, check out The New York Times annual Notable Books list. For now, here are the best books I read this year (followed by the complete list of all the books I read this year).

10. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. With the hype over the TV series, it was finally time to read the bestselling YA novel that had been on my “to-read” list for a couple of years, and the book is much better than the series. It is more streamlined, focusing on a girl who — before she commits suicide — records audiotapes on which she describes why and who led her to the decision of taking her own life. It is haunting, but telling in the way it discusses depression, high school, human interactions, and how one seemingly small act can have big impacts. Buy it now.

9. Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda. This Gone Girl-esque story about a man trying to kill his wife is chilling, but the format is what makes it stand out from other similar novels. Written completely from the husband’s perspective until the epilogue, the book has a scary way of showing how a sociopath is one kind of person on the outside and a completely different person on the inside.  Buy it now.

8. When the Future Comes Too Soon by Selina Siak Chin Yoke. This WWII-era novel shows the war from a viewpoint we don’t usually get in novels: that of a Malayan woman whose town has been bombed. The story is one of heartbreaking family drama and female power, detailing how the war affects her husband’s health, her marriage, and the new relationships she forms. Buy it now.

7. All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg. This powerful story about four women from the same family is all about relationships. Going back and forth between character and time period, it shows that no matter the age or era, we are all struggling to find answers and understand each other. Buy it now.

6. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick. In this hilarious memoir, Anna Kendrick gives us an honest glimpse into her awkward and yet, extremely successful career. She’s only 32 years old, but she reminds us just how much she’s accomplished in those years and why a memoir for such a young actress is warranted. She’s got the stories to back it all up. Buy it now.

5. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. The book — and the HBO series — are worth the hype. This female-driven novel is more than just women’s fiction. It’s a murder mystery. It’s an honest portrayal of domestic abuse. It’s a solid representation of fierce women building each other up instead of taking each other down. Buy it now. 

4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This book and Hulu series are also worth the hype. (Gosh, looks like there’s a running theme here…) This bestselling novel has won a plethora of awards for a reason. The feminist novel is set in a dystopian future in which the world population has decreased because of problems with reproduction. The handmaids are essentially trapped in a men-run world, forced into rape and abuse. But with every incident comes more incentive to try and get out. Buy it now. 

3. Lord of the Flies by William Golding. The ultimate classic tale of what happens when a bunch of kids are trapped on a deserted island is as relevant as ever. The only thing better than the plot and characters are the layers and layers of metaphor and symbolism. The book explains pretty much all we know and understand about the roots of evil and human nature. Buy it now.

2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. It hurts me to make this #2 because it just as easily could have been my number one pick for the year. This memoir penned by a dying doctor in his 30’s is the most honest portrayal of death and the search for the meaning of life that I have ever come across. This book will make you cry, but it will also make you think. I finished it two weeks ago, and I already want to re-read it with a highlighter so I can save my favorite quotes. Thank you, Paul, for leaving this beautiful piece of work for us before you left our world. Buy it now

1. A Race Like No Other by Liz Robbins. You don’t have to be a runner, nor do you need to be a New York to appreciate this nonfiction book about the magic that is the New York City Marathon. Year after year, it is one of the most challenging feats for anyone to overcome. It is painful. It is crazy. But it is awe-inspiring and stunning. It is captured beautifully by this sports journalist who follows the elite athletes who run it to win, the addicts who run it to prove something to themselves and their families, the sick who run it to show they are still strong and the charitable to run it for the greater good. Nothing will change your life like a marathon, and this book explains why. Buy it now.

BOOKS I’VE READ 2017

Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick

The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

Walk Into Silence – Susan McBride

Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari

All the Best People – Sonja Yoerg

True Colors – Kristin Hannah

The Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Fame Junkies – Jake Halpern

Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann

Can’t Buy Forever – Susan Laffoon

When the Future Comes Too Soon – Selina Siak Chin Yoke

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

That Crazy Perfect Someday – Michael Mazza

A Race Like No Other – Liz Robbins

Best Day Ever – Kaira Rouda

And Then I Am Gone: A Walk with Thoreau – Mathias B. Freese

Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

The Bookworm – Mitch Silver

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Review: When Breath Becomes Air

41ozmb3iwvl-_sx348_bo1204203200_Recap: Paul Kalanithi is on the up-and-up. He is an aspiring neuroscientist with big dreams of performing difficult surgeries, saving lives and eventually writing a book in his later years. With degrees in medicine and literature, he has his whole life mapped out. But his marriage is failing. And with his graduation from residency within his grasp, he begins to experience fatigue and horrific back pain. As a doctor, he knows this can only mean one thing: cancer.

After lots of tests, doctors and people in disbelief, it turns out he is right. Kalanithi has a rare form of cancer, at the age of 36. He goes into treatment. He strengthens his relationship with his wife. He fights it. He gets better. And then he gets worse. He knows the end is near. And suddenly he must fast forward his life plans. But by how much? How much time does he have left? He ultimately learns there’s no way of knowing, and he has no choice but to accept that. But as his life comes to an end, he writes this beautiful, touching memoir. Kalanithi now lives on forever in his words and leaves the most important lessons he’s learned for all of us.

Analysis: I purchased this book in the final days of my father’s life. At the time, I was desperate to understand — medically — what was happening to him. He had Alzheimer’s and was unconscious, so I knew he had  little, if any, logical brain activity. But his breaths were fewer and fewer each minute, and his skin had begun the mottling process. I was suddenly hearing terms I’d never heard before and wanted to know everything about them. Ultimately, the hospice nurses encouraged my mother and I to leave my father’s side and not come back. I wondered if she was trying to imply that maybe he was holding on simply because we were in the room with him. Or maybe she just didn’t want us to see all the other horrible — and gross bodily things — that happen when a person dies. So we left, and my husband and I visited what has always been one of my favorite places in my hometown:  Barnes and Noble. I purchased this book along with a self-help book. I was seeking answers that day.

My dad died two days after that. And yet, I didn’t begin reading When Breath Becomes Air until five months later. Mostly I was busy and wasn’t reading very much at all. But when I went away on a short vacation five months later, I knew this was a book I could knock out in just a few days. (I am not a fast reader.) Retrospectively, I wonder if I waited to read it because I subconsciously knew I needed time to digest my father’s death before reading about Paul Kalanithi’s death. Or maybe I was jealous of the way Paul passed away — not jealous of his age or his condition but of his ability to process his oncoming death in a way that my father mentally could not.

Either way, this book helped me process not just my father’s death, but death in general, which was something I desperately needed. After reading this book, I have accepted that ultimately we all face death and never know when it will hit us. In the way mortality often does, this memoir reaffirms the necessity  of living life to the fullest and cherishing each day. But it also tells us that it is okay if certain dreams aren’t achieved in our lifetime. It’s not what we do that’s important, but who we do it with and how we lived — in more general terms. Though he spends most of his life seeking the meaning of life and death, Paul Kalanithi doesn’t find his answer until his end. But he does the most heavenly, generous thing of all: he gives us all a glimpse into what he learned, in the hopes that we will all live more fully. So I will do that — for Paul and for my dad.

Get When Breath Becomes Air in hardcover for $17.50.

Or on your Kindle for $12.99.

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