Tag Archives: memoir

Lara’s Top Picks of 2018

20181231_144316.jpgWelcome to my eighth edition of “Top Picks!” Easily one of my favorite blog posts of the year, this is where I tell you about the ten best books I read this year. Again, this has nothing to do with what year they came out. In fact, I’m pretty sure only one of the books I read this year was published in 2018. 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. Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. After my dad passed away, this was the perfect book to help me out of my slump and come to terms with my grief. Sheryl Sandberg is not just a Facebook COO here. She is a woman navigating loss like so many of us have. If she can do it, we all can, especially with her tactile, concrete advice. Buy it now. 

9. The Lost Family by Jenna Blum. It’s a novel that spans 30 years and three generations of a Jewish family in New York and New Jersey in the years post-WWII. The patriarch lost his first family in the war and starts a new one with an aspiring model. It’s a book that I really enjoyed when I read it, but since I finished it, I simply can’t stop thinking about it. Buy it now.

8. One More Time by Carol Burnett. Both an in-depth look at the iconic comedianne’s life and a book about life lessons, One More Time is a memoir that almost feels like a self-help book. There is so much to be learned from this strong woman who overcame trauma, failure and poverty to become the icon she is today. Buy it now.

7. Cujo by Stephen King. It’s scary to think that it took me this long to read a Stephen King novel (yes, it was my first!!), but everyone told me this was one of his best and it did not disappoint. More thriller than horror, Cujo brilliantly jumps between characters I legitimately cared for while making a dog scary to me for the first time in my life. The ending is something to be both celebrated and mourned — a bittersweet juxtaposition that makes the read all the more complicated and engrossing. Buy it now.

6. 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Dan Harris single-handedly got me interested in meditation, but it took me several years to finally read his book. Both memoir and self-help (is this a common theme here?), 10% Happier makes a case for changing yoru life and through meditation — even for the skeptics — while also telling tales of the fascinating network newsman life he leads. Buy it now.

5. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Set on reading it before seeing in the theater, I had high hopes for this one, and it surpassed them all. It was more than just a romantic story or an Asian story. It was also a funny store! So tongue-in-cheek in its prose and dialogue, it was a long book that turned into a quick read, and I’ve never been more excited to read a sequel. Buy it now.

4. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. Julie Powell needed something in her life. She surprised herself by finding it in Julia Child’s famous cookbook. So she set her sights on cooking the entire book in a year’s time. The book details the true story of Powell achieving this crazy and kind of obnoxious goal, even while it tears much of the rest of her life to shreds. She is a hilarious writer who had me laughing out loud. But she also learns a lot about life and herself through the process, and so do we. Buy it now.

3. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. A story from the point of view of a dog, Racing is a more dramatic tale than I expected. But it’s refreshing perspective gives us hope in both dogs and humanity, proving that there is nothing more important than the bonds of friendship and family. It’s a grand story about life trapped in a doggie fiction novel in the most beautiful way. It left me breathless. Buy it now.

2. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman. After seeing the sexy movie that so deeply resonated with me in its portrayal of first love, I found myself wanting more so I picked up the book the movie was based on. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book is even better than the movie with more details, more sexiness, more teenage uncertainty and more finality. Oh, and the prose is supreme. Buy it now.

1. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. As I turned 30, I thought a self-help book would help me better round the corner. What I found in Badass is a swift kick in my badass that left me empowered. Jen Sincero’s real-talk and tangible tips allow for a true journey in confidence-building and goal-setting unlike I’ve ever experienced before. Buy it now.

Here’s a link to the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018. 

BOOKS I’VE READ 2018

In the Studio with Michael Jackson – Bruce Swedien

Damned Good- J.J. DeCeglie

Wonder – R.J. Palacio

Julie and Julia – Julia Powell

A Wrinkle In Time – Madeleine L’Engle

Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman

Soul Witness – William Costopoulos

Option B – Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

A Load of Hooey – Bob Odenkirk

Emma – Jane Austen

Cujo – Stephen King

Ann M. Martin – Margot Becker R.

The Last Dropout – Bill Milliken

How to Love the Empty Air – Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Strangers – Nigel Gray

Notorious R.B.G. – Irin Carmon

One More Time – Carol Burnett

On Becoming Fearless – Arianna Huffington

The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein

Choose Your Own Autobiography – Neil Patrick Harris

10% Happier – Dan Harris

The Gene Guillotine – Kate Preskenis

You Are a Badass – Jen Sincero

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan

The Lost Family – Jenna Blum

Sharp Objects – Gilian Flynn

A Simple Favor – Darcy Bell

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers

The Day The World Came to Town – Jim DeFede

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Review: The Gene Guillotine

gene guillotineRecap: Kate Preskenis’s world revolves around her mother. Diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s Disease, Kate’s mom struggles through family events, battles daily routines and loses herself from moment to moment. It’s enough to encourage Kate to adapt her life around staying home or close to home to care for her mother. Even though she has a lot of siblings, she wants to be there. It’s Kate who rubs her mom’s feet, who finds their own language to speak.

So it comes as a complete shock when, roughly two years into the diagnosis, Kate’s father dies of a sudden heart attack. But Kate and her siblings begin to wonder how much of a shock it really is. After all, he too had struggled with his wife’s diagnosis. He took on the burden — albeit willingly and happily — of his new role as “caregiver.” Now that role is left to Kate and her brothers and sisters. Together, they must take turns and make plans for their mother who’s getting progressively worse.

As Kate’s mom’s condition worsens, so does Kate’s emotional well-being. Caring for a sick mother is not easy for anyone, especially someone as young as Kate. She wants to be there for her mom and easily drops everything, including other relationships, to do it. But this is not where Kate’s story ends. This is only part one. Part two is the debate over whether she should be genetically tested for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Analysis: In her heartbreaking and honest memoir, Kate Preskenis tells the modern-day version of what Alzheimer’s has become: a haunting disease that so often affects the family members of the patient more than the patient. The disease is all the more bolstered in its chilling effects by the fact that science now enables people to be genetically tested for it. It’s a battle that anyone who has or had a loved one with Alzheimer’s can relate to.

I, myself, lost my father to the disease last year. I’d been lent this book years ago and had never had the guts to read it until now. Even now, I slogged through it; I found the content so relatable, it became hard to read. I was impressed by how closely Preskenis documented her experience. It was obvious that many of her journal entries were likely adapted for the book. She also relied on a tape recorder for conversations with doctors so they could be properly transcribed.

The book ends on a heavy note. She details the process of being genetically tested and debates whether or not to learn the results, and we are also left wondering. Of course, I can’t blame her for grappling with the decision. It’s something I think about every day and have — at this point — opted not to be tested for the disease. As there is currently no cure, there’s not much I or anyone could do about the results. But I do wish the ending offered some semblance of hope for the future of her, her family and the disease. When it comes to Alzheimer’s, we could all use a little hope.

You can buy The Gene Guillotine now in paperback for $14.95.

 

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Review: 10% Happier

10 happierRecap: When ABC News anchor and correspondent Dan Harris was in his 30’s, he had his first on-air implosion: a panic attack on national television in the middle of a report. Did he handle it well? Of course. Like a pro. But it was clearly something had happened. It was only after that that he finally started seeing a therapist and learned his increasingly frequent panic attacks were a result of his cocaine addiction, a habit he picked up while covering the war in the Middle East.

TV reporting is no joke, folks. Harris knew he needed to make some massive changes. In this part memoir, part self-help book, Harris brilliantly and beautifully documents his long, dubious path out of his own darkness and into a space that’s at least 10% brighter. Harris tells the story of his downfall and his unexpected spiritual journey that led him to meditation. A skeptic, as many journalists are, Harris needed to understand meditation from all angles before he truly jumped in. In time, he has become a huge proponent of the practice. Being more mindful, he says, has helped him become a more relaxed, focused, less stressed, more loving person.

Analysis: This book had come highly recommended for years. But it wasn’t until about a year-and-a-half ago that I stumbled upon meditation itself. In sifting through and trying various meditation apps, the one I happened to like best was the 10% Happier app. Its guided meditations were the easiest to understand. They cut through the BS and gave it to me straight. They made me understand the purpose, point, goals and benefits of meditation. I was not surprised to learn that it was connected to the 10% Happier book, just surprised to realize the book had developed into the world of podcasting and apps. The more Dan Harris talked about his experience with meditation in the app and podcast, the more I knew I had to read the book.

Basically — everyone was right; this is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in the last year (and I have read a LOT). Harris’s story of ups and down in his personal and professional life were of course very relatable to me since I, too, am a TV reporter. But more than that, it’s his self-doubt, self-loathing and temper I related to most. I often shouted while I was reading this “He’s me! I’m the female version of Dan Harris!” I feel grateful that he did so much of the meditation and Buddhist homework for me, talking to various teachers and getting a plethora of insights.

It was hard to put this book down. Having written his second book, Harris often says he hoped that his first book (this one, 10% Happier) would make the case for meditation and was surprised to find that for most of his readers, it didn’t. I, however, found that it did. His spiritual awakening is inspiring and something I think we all could use a lot of these days. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a reporter professionally so his writing is obviously fabulous — leaving little tease-worthy bread crumbs at the end of each chapter. I find myself going back to his book frequently, reminding myself of some of his methods so that I, too, can become 10% happier. Because every little bit counts. And isn’t that what it’s all about on this journey to betterment?

Get 10% Happier now in paperback for $13.25. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $11.99.

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Review: Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

nphRecap: You may recognize him as Doogie Howser. Or that other weird doctor, Dr. Horrible. To you, he may be Barney Stinson. Or a very angry Hedwig. Or he may just be the high guy from Harold and Kumar. Either way, Neil Patrick Harris has made quite the imprint on Hollywood in the past 25 years he’s been in the business. Like many other stars, he uses his celebrity here to write his own memoir, but NPH is far too cool to just run your everyday, run-of-the-mill celebrity memoir. After all, he loves magic. So he makes his memoir a little more magical by writing it in the form of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books of yesteryear. Finish a chapter, and choose between options like this: “If you need a drink to calm down, turn to page 45. If you need to wake your brain back up, turn to page 150. To continue your stage career, willkommen/bienvenue/welcomeim/au/to page 130. To attempt to relaunch your movie career, turn to page 124.”

Some chapters are silly absurdist fake short stories he’s written about his life. Some are recipes for his favorites food and cocktails. Some are magic tricks. But most are real stories from his life, including his time as a child star, the years when he was “washed up” in his twenties, his various stints in theater, his comeback into movies and television, his coming out of the closet both personally and publicly and the process he and his husband went through to have their children.

NPH has led every kind of life you can feature in an autobiography, so he gives us, the reader, the choice to read whichever one we like.

Analysis: The truth is I didn’t follow the choose your own adventure format and just read straight through the book. I think most people do — considering NPH wrote in an extra page in the book that no chapter urges you to turn to; clearly he knew people would find it because they’re lazy like me and just reading straight through. That said, the book is enjoyable either way. It zigs and zags through his life — some of it in order, some out of order. Some of the absurdist fake story chapters had me rolling my eyes thinking ‘why did I even bother to read these two pages?’ But the rest of the book more than makes up for it.

The struggles he’s faced in his career, in figuring out his sexuality and in having a family are as real as they get. NPH may appear to have it all, but it took him a long time and a lot of strife to get there. The sections about his children moved me to tears. He keeps his sense of humor throughout every page of the book, even if it’s in just the directions at the end of a chapter. His Barney Stinson silliness wreaks havoc on the book in the best way possible. This was by far the most creatively written memoir I’ve ever read and easily one of the most enjoyable, fun, and deeply moving.

Get Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography in hardcover for just $4.29.

Or on your Kindle for $12.99.

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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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