Tag Archives: politics

Lara’s Top Picks of 2020

I’m going to be completely honest with you. This year was an absolute crap year for me when it came to reading. I recognize a global pandemic may have seemed like the perfect opportunity to sit and read a ton, and I’m well aware that many people did that. However, I’m an essential worker and was not home nearly as much as some others this year, and I also felt so completely drained by work and the day-to-day reality of the state of the world that when I was home, I found myself wanting to do nothing more than veg out on the couch watching Netflix. I simply felt I had no more brainpower to expend on reading.

That said, I read far fewer books than I normally do in a year and kept this list a little shorter for that reason.

Another thing. Here’s the disclaimer I include every year. This is not a list of my top picks of books that were published this year (although some were). For that kind of list, I recommend the NYTimes 100 Notable Books of 2020 list. This is a list of my top picks of books I personally read in 2020, regardless of what year they were published. Below that is a complete list of the books I read this year. Enjoy!

8. The Sweeney Sisters – This fictional tale of three wealthy sisters grappling with the death of their famous father and what to do with his legacy was a perfect summer beach read. Light, easy, romantic, a little predictable and still a lot of fun.

7. Living the Sutras – Part yoga textbook and part journal guide, this book breaks down the ancient yoga sutras, detailing the theory and practice of yoga. Each of the 195 sutras go much deeper than “triangle pose!” and in this book, each is accompanied with a little writing prompt, allowing the reader to also go deep and learn about themselves while reading.

6. The Promise of a Pencil – Part memoir/part self-help, Adam Braun shares how he built an incredibly successful charitable organization from the ground up. In doing so, he also shares how he learned to let go of the corporate life he was conditioned to desire, how to be a better leader and human and the importance of leaning into your passion for the betterment of the future.

5. Unbearable Lightness – I never really cared or knew much about Portia de Rossi until I read this book, and now I have incredible respect for her. Her memoir about her battle with an extreme eating disorder and depression is dark, honest, real and compelling. And her ability to write far exceeded my expectations.

4. Universe of Two – This WWII-era historical fiction novel has nothing to do with battle and nothing to do with the Holocaust. What a gift. Instead it centers on the Manhattan Project: one of the engineers involved and the women he was in love with who lived across the country. It’s romantic, educational, beautifully written and I couldn’t put it down.

3. Waiting for the Punch – If you’re a fan of Marc Maron’s podcast WTF, you will love this book. And if you’re not, but have always wondered what the fuss is all about, this book is your perfect way in. The book is divided into themes, and each one includes transcriptions of some of his best, funniest and saddest celebrity interviews. I may have cried more reading this book this year than any other. It is chock full of life lessons and earns its own credit separately from the podcast.

2. Becoming – What more can I say about Michelle Obama’s famous, bestselling memoir that hasn’t already been said? It is superb. It is honest, feminist, political without being too political, uplifting and inspiring. I don’t know why I waited so long to read it, and honestly, why have you?

  1. Untamed – Glennon Doyle deserves every bit of praise she received this year for this book. The bestseller struck a serious chord with most of America as Doyle details her honest descriptions of falling in love, parenting, feminism, politics, charity and the importance of being true to yourself and your passions and following through with everyone you want despite the “consequences.” She calls herself on her bullshit. And you’ll read this, crying, calling yourself on yours.

BOOKS I READ IN 2020

The Magnanimous Heart – Narayan Helen Liebenson

The Promise of a Pencil – Adam Braun

Unbearable Lightness – Portia de Rossi

Okay Fine Whatever – Courtenay Hameister

40 Days to Personal Revolution – Baron Baptiste

The Sweeney Sisters – Lian Dolan

Universe of Two – Stephen P. Kiernan

Untamed – Glennon Doyle

Becoming – Michelle Obama

Waiting for the Punch – Marc Maron

Living the Sutras – Kelly DiNardo

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream – Doris Kearns Goodwin

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Review: Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

Recap: LBJ was the 36th President of the United States. I like to say that separately from the fact that he was inaugurated after the assassination of John F. Kennedy because those two facts are often lumped together and LBJ deserves a little more recognition than that. Because he didn’t just step in. He changed America. He took our country through the turmoil and trauma of the 1960s. He signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He put into place legislation that still impact us through the present. He also entered the U.S. into the Vietnam War.

And yet, he was much more than all of this. LBJ was a tall, broad man who loved his wife Lady Bird more than anything. He was awkward at public events, but fantastic negotiating in small groups. He grew up with a deep-seeded fear of paralysis and death only to succumb to a heart attack alone – his worst fear realized. Biographer and author Doris Kearns Goodwin takes us through his entire life, from his parents and the generations before he was born to the last day of his life. She shines a light on everything he did, everything he succeeded in and failed at, and the lasting impact he’s had. She paints LBJ not only as a President, but as a person.

Analysis: Here’s the thing. I have to admit I didn’t know much about LBJ before reading this book. The extent of my knowledge was that he took over after JFK was shot. But after a trip to Austin, Texas last year and a stop at the LBJ Presidential Library, I was fascinated by everything he had done for the Civil Rights movement. Why didn’t that ring a bell? I’d never read a presidential biography before, and LBJ had piqued my interest just enough to encourage me to buy this one.

It took a long time for me to get through it – months! It’s not because it wasn’t a good book. He is a fascinating man with both good qualities and bad. And author Doris Kearns Goodwin was not only close enough with him to know him well, she’s also an excellent writer. Plus, I’m giving myself a little extra grace with how little I read this year – there was a global pandemic after all, and with everything going on in the world, I found that most days, the last thing I wanted to do was read.

The book is simply dense. There is a lot – and I mean a LOT of information – detailing each of his policies, the men he worked with, his childhood, his struggles during Vietnam, his struggles with the Kennedys. Everything you could want to know about the man is in this book. The same thing that makes it dense is the same thing that makes it delicious and fast-moving once you get into it.

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Review: Becoming

Recap: To us, she is the former First Lady, a woman about whom we already know so much – who Michelle Obama is married to, how many children she has, what her platform was while serving in the White House, where she’s from. Her Wikipedia page tells a lot more – where she went to school, what she got her degree in, where she worked prior to her role as First Lady.

But all that is surface information – interesting, but mostly trivial when it comes to the wealth, insight and warmth a human being has to offer. Michelle Obama’s bestselling memoir Becoming offers a much truer, more authentic view of who Michelle Obama was, is and is…becoming.

The level of detail in which she remembers her life is astonishing. She is full of beautiful and meaningful stories and anecdotes, trials and tribulations that have set her on this path. Stories from her childhood are full of piano lessons, growing up black, strict but loving relatives, her mother getting her out of her second grade class, the guidance counselor who told her she wasn’t “Princeton material.” Stories from adulthood tell the romance of her relationship with President Obama, the loss of her father and close friend, and the struggles she faced with finding her purpose in work, getting pregnant and then managing work, motherhood and her husband’s politics. And then there’s the politics of it all – the criticism and backlash she faced, the lessons she learned, the racism she faced, the platforms she picked and the behind-the-scenes details of life in the White House (they pay for their own groceries!) and some of the biggest events we only know as televised (i.e. On Election Night 2008 when, after President Obama’s win and on the drive to his acceptance speech, with the streets emptied and blocked for their motorcade, one of her daughters said “Dad, I don’t think anyone’s coming to your party.)

Analysis: With this memoir, Michelle Obama paints a picture of herself as the star character in her own fish-out-of-water novel. And for the first time, despite any number of articles and interviews I’ve read, seen or heard, I got it. I got her. I understand the level at which she was swept into a life of “wife of politician.” So focused on her own career and family for so long, she never saw any of this coming. It’s hard to believe that from someone who has been married to the guy who ran the country for eight years, but reading her book, you ultimately reason one critical piece of information: she’s just a woman, like any other. A woman with doubts and fears and questioning about whether she’s doing the right thing. A woman with love for her family and unending support for those she loves. A woman who takes experiences and learns from them, hoping to only learn and grow more with each new chapter.

Becoming is not a “self-help” book, but so many parts of it are so relatable, it’s hard to ignore the insights she has to offer, like this:

This may be the fundamental problem with caring a lot about what others think: It can put you on the established path — the my-isn’t-that-impressive path — and keep you there for a long time. Maybe it stops you from swerving, from ever even considering a swerve, because what you risk losing in terms of other people’s high regard can feel too costly.

In Becoming, Michelle Obama portrays herself as the every woman, but she has lived quite a life because of the ride she’s just so happened to hop on.

Buy Becoming now in hardcover for $11.89.

Or on your Kindle for $12.99.

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‘Fire and Fury’ Forces More Print, Causes Confusion

methode2ftimes2fprod2fweb2fbin2ff3b86ff8-f2d7-11e7-a480-969f697997eaAfter portions of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, detailing life inside President Trump’s White House were made public, publishers moved up the release down of the book. Now according to The Guardianit’s sold out practically everywhere. Sales have gone through the roof in stores, online, in ebook format and audiobook format to the point where publishers have ordered an extra million copies to be printed.

None of this is a surprise really, considering it includes not-so-subtle President Trump bashing. But what may be a surprise is how much sales of Fire and Fury are impacting other books…that include Fire and Fury in the title.

According to NewsweekFire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942-1945 is seeing a spike in sales. So is Fire and Fury: How the US Isolates North Korea, Encircles China and Risks Nuclear War in Asia. While some of these authors assume that people have simply confused their books for Michael Wolff’s, some admit these titles popped up online as suggested books based on their purchase of Wolff’s Fire and Fury.

Either way, the authors are grateful, with one even explaining “I’m gratified that more people will read a book about the horrors of war, what it does to human bodies and the difficulty of even the most well-intentioned leaders (which Trump certainly is not) in maintaining their moral commitments in wartime. With a dangerous, unstable and deranged demagogue controlling the greatest armed forces the world has ever seen, I can think of no better time to reflect on these issues.”

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Review: The Hopefuls

28007954Recap: It’s one thing to move to Washington, D.C. to support your husband’s work. It’s another to then move to Texas for a year to support him as he runs a campaign for his frenemy. But that’s exactly what Beth does in this scandalous political novel. Beth has always known of Matt’s dream to run for office. But it still comes as a surprise when, after years of living in New York together, he becomes serious about moving to D.C. She follows suit, but hates her new city — too full of pomp, circumstance and pompous politicians and their wives. Not to mention, it’s closer to his family in Maryland, including her mother-in-law with whom she does not get along.

But in due time, Matt and Beth become friends with Jimmy and Asheleigh. Matt and Jimmy work together, and Asheleigh is epitomizes everything a politician’s wife should be. Despite their being complete opposites, Beth and Asheleigh become inseparable, as do Matt and Jimmy. But Jimmy always seems to be one step ahead of Matt in his career, and soon Matt’s friendship also becomes partially built on envy.

After several of Matt’s job prospects fall through, Jimmy asks him to run his campaign for a position available in his and Asheleigh’s home state of Texas. So they all move there, with Beth and Matt taking the Dillons up on their offer to live in their house. One can only imagine the stress, the exhaustion and the changes that develop after months of campaigning. Matt spends little time with Beth. Asheleigh seems distant. Jimmy is aggravated with everyone. But as some relationships sour, others start to bloom anew — and therein lies even more problems than the ones that have to do with politics.

Analysis: Just in time for the 2016 election, The Hopefuls dives into the inner-workings of D.C. politics in the most delectable way. It includes the honest political hard work of The West Wing, the simmering desire of Scandal, and questions about these couples’ pairings a la House of Cards. What makes this a standout is that it’s not about the President, but about some low-level White House employees, trying to make it big. As inundated as pop culture is with political drama — both real and not — we’ve yet to see a story about a person at the start of their political career and not at the peak.

Jennifer Close (Girls in White Dressescover equally the political aspects of the story and their effects on relationships. I love that the story is written from the perspective of Beth, both because she’s a woman in this world and because she’s completely uninterested in the universe of politics. Usually in this kind of story, the women are vicious and want to be a part of the political landscape as much as their significant others. It was a refreshing new angle on what could have been a redundant tale.

The Hopefuls felt like it could have been a sequel to Girls in White Dresses, focusing on one of the characters from that novel. Close’s writing here feels a little more mature, subtle (in a good, smart way) and relevant. The ending here is a little sad, a little lost, but in D.C.’s world of young hopefuls, I imagine there is plenty of sad and lost to go around.

MVP: Beth. Yes, she’s the protagonist and no, she doesn’t always make the best choices, nor does she seem particularly motivated. But she puts up with a lot, and at the end of the day, she’s still the most likable of all the heinous — yet amusing! — characters in this book.

Get The Hopefuls in hardcover for $17.85. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99. 

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NSA Scandal to Blame for ‘1984’ Sales Boost?

Is the NSA scandal to blame for the big sales boost of the classic novel 1984 this week?

That’s what the writers for Vulture seem to believe. According to them, sales of the 1949 classic novel rose 5,771 percent on Amazon this week. The book is set in the future 1984 and tells the story of a society that’s watched closely by its government and referred to as Big Brother. With the news of the cell phone surveillance, it all kind of sounds familiar, huh?

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Memoirs Coming from Questlove, Jesse Jackson Jr.

Two big names in the world of pop culture and news are set to publish books.

According to The Huffington Post, Questlove, the drummer and producer of hip hop group The Roots, is set to publish a memoir this summer. Due out on June 18, Questlove’s book will include tales of his brushes with celebrities and other artists, like Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder, and KISS. Grand Central Publishing is publishing the memoir.

But he’s not the only big name coming out with a memoir. According to The Huffington Post, the Reverend’s son Jesse Jackson Jr. will also publish a memoir. The ex-Congressman recently made headlines when he pleaded guilty to planning to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items. Sources say he’s planning to use this book as an opportunity to clear his name.

The book is still in the early stages and isn’t even being shopped around yet. But there’s a good chance someone would pick it up. After all, Jesse Jackson Jr. has written several books already, and he’s got quite the story to tell.

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In Memphis, Library Cards as Voter IDs

Election Day is just a few days away, and with the scrutinizing media coverage of this year’s Presidential race, excessive political ads, and controversial debate over various states’ voter ID laws, most of you are probably sick of the election, and it hasn’t even started yet. But here’s an interesting story you probably haven’t heard.

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled just last week that in Memphis — and Memphis alone — voters can use their Memphis library cards as voter ID for the election.

According to Huffington Post, Tennessee passed the Voter ID Law earlier this year, requiring people to show a state or federal issued form of identification on Election Day. Passports, driver’s licenses, and state-issued handgun permits are all acceptable. Republicans claim the Voter ID Law will prevent voter fraud. Democrats claim it’s just a way to deter typical voters from voting.

Memphis filed a lawsuit against the law in July, stating that the law would prevent people with other forms of ID from voting. After a long back and forth between courts, the Tennessee Supreme Court finally ruled that library cards would be an acceptable form of ID.

Suddenly those library cards hold a lot more meaning, no? Maybe it’s time to renew yours…

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New Bob Woodward Book Coming This Month

In case you haven’t heard enough about the current state of the U.S. economy, journalist Bob Woodward is publishing his 17th book this month, which will focus on America’s economic condition over the last three-and-a-half years.

According to The New York Times, Woodward’s The Price of Politics is due out on September 11th. Simon & Schuster says it is “an intimate, documented examination of how President Obama and the highest profile Republican and Democratic leaders in the United States Congress attempted to restore the American economy and improve the federal government’s fiscal condition over three and one half years.”

Woodward, who’s one-half of the dynamic Woodward and Bernstein Watergate duo, is the associate editor for The Washington Post, which will also run an excerpt from the book.

Will you guys be reading?

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Children’s Books by Washington Wives

It’s everywhere lately, and it’s only going to become more prominent: politics. In this big political year, the men — and women — of Washington are doing what they can to inform the people. But those people also include children. Now children’s books written by the wives of the politically powerful men in Washington, D.C. are all the rage, the newest political trend.

According to this article by The New York Times, former Vice President Joseph Biden’s wife, Jill, is publishing Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops under Simon & Schuster. The profits from her book will go toward charities for military families.

But Jill Biden isn’t the first to touch on this seemingly strange, but actually brilliant form of political campaigning. Laura Bush and Hilary Clinton have both written children’s books. So have Callista Gingrich, Lynne Cheney, and Carole Geithner, Timothy Geithner’s wife. And for that matter, it’s not just wives who are jumping on the bandwagon; it’s also daughters like Jenna Bush and Caroline Kennedy.

Most of the books have political undertones, which is why this election year, there seem to be more “Washington Wife Children’s Books” than ever. It’s all part of the process as Pamela Paul explains.

“Picture books and books for tweens are always a great way to put complex issues like politics into a context that young children can understand,” [HarperCollins Children’s Books editor-in-chief Kate Jackson] said. “They get the conversation going.” For Washington wives, writing a children’s book has become almost an expected spousal counterpart to the politician’s campaign tract or argument book. “Spouses have one mandatory obligation — ‘First Do No Harm’ — and one optional assignment: provide a positive magnifying force,” Mary Matalin, editor at large for Threshold Editions, a division of Simon & Schuster, and a former member of Dick Cheney’s staff, wrote in an e-mail. “Children’s books fulfill both.”

Not all the books are political — like Carole Geithner’s, for instance. But for those that are, it’s a smart move because it not only teaches children about politics in an understandable way; it also gives children something to talk about with their parents. And that makes those voting adults think even harder about who they’re voting for, and what those people represent.

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