Tag Archives: non fiction

Out of Orange by Cleary Wolters

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The real-life Alex Vause from the critically acclaimed, top-rated Netflix show Orange Is the New Black tells her story in her own words for the first time--a powerful, surprising memoir about crime and punishment, friendship and marriage, and a life caught in the ruinous drug trade and beyond.

Fans nationwide have fallen in love with Orange Is the New Black, the critically acclaimed and wildly popular Netflix show based on Piper Kerman's sensational #1 New York Times bestseller. Now, Catherine Cleary Wolters--the inspiration for Alex Vause, Piper's ex-girlfriend, friend, and sometimes-romantic partner on the show--tells her true story, offering details and insights that fill in the blanks, set the record straight, and answer common fan questions.

An insightful, frustrating, heartbreaking, and uplifting analysis of crime and punishment in our times, Out of Orange is an intimate look at international drug crime--a seemingly glamorous lifestyle that dazzles unsuspecting young women and eventually leads them to the seedy world of prison. Told by a woman originally thrust into the spotlight without her permission--Wolters learned about Piper's memoir in the media--Out of Orange chronicles Wolter's time in the drug trade, her incarceration, her friendships and acquaintances with odd cellmates, her two marriages, and her complicated relationship with Piper. But Wolters is not solely defined by her past; she also reflects on her life and the person she is today.

Filled with colorful characters, fascinating tales, painful sobering lessons, and hard-earned wisdom, Out of Orange is sure to be provocative, entertaining, and ultimately inspiring.

I read the Kindle edition of this

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you probably know that I was a big fan of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. I had already read Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name and the series really got to me.

After watching the series, my interest was piqued on the subject of incarceration and the justice system. When I saw this book come across my radar as a Kindle deal, I bought it without reading into it. It wasn’t until I read the opening few paragraphs that I realized…oh my god, this is the story about Alex! Except, really it wasn’t because the Alex Vause in the series was very heavily fictionalized. About the only similarity was the crime that was committed and even then, it was much more glamours on tv then in reality (as most things are).

I enjoyed this though. Cleary Wolters is a good writer and did a good job at capturing that time period in her life and the people in it. There isn’t much excitement, truthfully, and that was a good thing as this was clearly about how exciting drug smuggling is but instead how completely insane, dangerous and often time boring the profession is with not much profit.

I do kind of wish Wolters would have touched a little more on what the day to day life was like for her in prison but after Piper Kerman’s memoir it might have seemed a little too redundant.

Rating: four out of five stars

Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeannie Darst

Jeanne Darst shares with humor her memoirs, stories about growing up around writers and journalists, and figuring out how to make her own way.

I read the ebook version of this via Libby.

I picked up this title by chance through Libby. I had never heard of this memoir and I have never heard of Jeanne Darst but I liked the title and thought I’d give it a shot.

I enjoyed this memoir, though, I found it similar to other memoirs like The Glass Castle or Mary Karr’s memoirs.. Screwed up families make for good reads, though, there comes a time when they all start to blend in together.

Darst has a good sense of humor, and if not ashamed to hide her true self from her audience. She will freely admit that most of her high school, college and early/mid adulthood years are tainted by substance abuse from both herself and her parents so it’s clear to see why she chose to call her memoir Fiction Ruined My Family as at times the line between fiction and reality seem a little too close to comfort. Jeanne and her family often resorted to use fiction when the reality of their life and family dynamic became too much.

Rating: Four Stars

“And yes, the Hemingways, the Fitzgeralds, the Faulkners and the Capotes. Drank while writing. Drink next to the typewriter. But the longer I lived in Brooklyn, the more writers I met, and I guess I was just too drunk to put it together before but now I realized about half of them were sober. So you could be a writer and be sober. Very interesting”

― Jeanne Darst, Fiction Ruined My Family: A Memoir

Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

The New York Times bestselling Freakonomics changed the way we see the world, exposing the hidden side of just about everything. Then came SuperFreakonomics, a documentary film, an award-winning podcast, and more.

Now, with Think Like a Freak, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have written their most revolutionary book yet. With their trademark blend of captivating storytelling and unconventional analysis, they take us inside their thought process and teach us all to think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally—to think, that is, like a Freak.

Levitt and Dubner offer a blueprint for an entirely new way to solve problems, whether your interest lies in minor lifehacks or major global reforms. As always, no topic is off-limits. They range from business to philanthropy to sports to politics, all with the goal of retraining your brain. Along the way, you’ll learn the secrets of a Japanese hot-dog-eating champion, the reason an Australian doctor swallowed a batch of dangerous bacteria, and why Nigerian e-mail scammers make a point of saying they’re from Nigeria.

Some of the steps toward thinking like a Freak:

First, put away your moral compass—because it’s hard to see a problem clearly if you’ve already decided what to do about it.
Learn to say “I don’t know”—for until you can admit what you don’t yet know, it’s virtually impossible to learn what you need to.
Think like a child—because you’ll come up with better ideas and ask better questions.
Take a master class in incentives—because for better or worse, incentives rule our world.
Learn to persuade people who don’t want to be persuaded—because being right is rarely enough to carry the day.
Learn to appreciate the upside of quitting—because you can’t solve tomorrow’s problem if you aren’t willing to abandon today’s dud.
Levitt and Dubner plainly see the world like no one else. Now you can too. Never before have such iconoclastic thinkers been so revealing—and so much fun to read.

I listened to the audio version of this.

If you have already read the original Freakanomics book, or listen to the podcast, this book isn’t a whole lot new information. This isn’t to say that it wasn’t interesting-just that it wasn’t any big revelations included in this book. I’m kind of disappointed by it, I enjoyed the original book but I guess it makes sense.

I did enjoy it, and I was excited to see that my old advisor in college was an information source for one of the sections. I hadn’t been aware that he was considered an expert in his field but now I definitely want to dig a little more into his studies.

I gave this three stars and found myself subscribing to the Freakanomics podcast as I did find it interesting enough that I do want to learn more.

DNF: Dunkirk by David Boyle

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In May 1940, World War II hung in the balance.

As the Germans closed in on the Allies, trapping them on the beaches of Dunkirk, it seemed the entire British army would be obliterated.

Such a loss would almost certainly force the British to surrender and allow a Nazi invasion of the UK.

Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay planned a mass evacuation across the English Channel, but with the Germans drawing ever closer and intense air raids from the Luftwaffe, escape seemed all but impossible.

But with a combination of excellent planning, luck, and an almost inconceivable bit of help from none other than Adolf Hitler himself, Operation Dynamo was underway.

Over 900 boats sailed to Dunkirk - including destroyers, ferries, fishing boats and the famous “little boats of Dunkirk” – and, across nine tense days, rescued 338,226 soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk in what remains the biggest evacuation in military history.

This brilliantly researched book by historian David Boyle recounts each fraught day of the famous rescue mission that Winston Churchill famously called a ‘miracle of deliverance’.

I read the Kindle edition.

I purchased this book as I was intrigued by the movie trailers for the movie adaption of Dunkirk. The trailers made me realize that although I wanted to learn more about the evacuation, however, I have a low tolerance for war violence and knew I’d not be able to sit through the movie. Books of this nature are generally easier to handle.

The book was short, so I had high hopes of being able to dig right into it. And I started reading and very quickly I found myself a quarter of the way through…and I had no freakin’ idea what I had just read or what was happening. I had no desire to return to the beginning and reread, nor did I think it made sense to continue on when I couldn’t focus nor connect.

I think I might keep it, maybe one day I’ll want to return…at a time when I have the time to truly dedicate to completly focusing on this.

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham

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April 25, 1986, in Chernobyl, was a turning point in world history. The disaster not only changed the world’s perception of nuclear power and the science that spawned it, but also our understanding of the planet’s delicate ecology. With the images of the abandoned homes and playgrounds beyond the barbed wire of the 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone, the rusting graveyards of contaminated trucks and helicopters, the farmland lashed with black rain, the event fixed for all time the notion of radiation as an invisible killer.

Chernobyl was also a key event in the destruction of the Soviet Union, and, with it, the United States’ victory in the Cold War. For Moscow, it was a political and financial catastrophe as much as an environmental and scientific one. With a total cost of 18 billion rubles—at the time equivalent to $18 billion—Chernobyl bankrupted an already teetering economy and revealed to its population a state built upon a pillar of lies.

The full story of the events that started that night in the control room of Reactor No.4 of the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant has never been told—until now. Through two decades of reporting, new archival information, and firsthand interviews with witnesses, journalist Adam Higginbotham tells the full dramatic story, including Alexander Akimov and Anatoli Dyatlov, who represented the best and worst of Soviet life; denizens of a vanished world of secret policemen, internal passports, food lines, and heroic self-sacrifice for the Motherland. Midnight in Chernobyl, award-worthy nonfiction that reads like sci-fi, shows not only the final epic struggle of a dying empire but also the story of individual heroism and desperate, ingenious technical improvisation joining forces against a new kind of enemy.

I read the Kindle edition of this.

I was still a toddler when the accident at Chernobyl occured. I have no recollection of the incident, but finally learned a little about it when I was in high school or college. Not many details though. Honestly, it wasn’t something I thought much of. In fact, it was something I didn’t want to think too much about as there are several nuclear plants near where I grew up and the idea of the same thing happening there…well, it wasn’t something I wanted to think about.

And then this past year interest in Chernobyl exploded with this book being released and the miniseries that HBO released (which I haven’t seen, so no spoilers haha).

I enjoyed this book. I’m always a bit worried going into a non fiction book like this because I can never tell how this is going to be presented. Is this going to be a narration? Is this going to be full of facts and my brain will end up getting bogged down. I was pleased when I began reading and found myself immersed in the story. There was a great narration that was easy to follow and felt almost like reading a novel. There was facts, but they were presented as part of the narration and not once did I feel confused or taken out of the story.

Whenever I read a book like this, I immediately want to look for other similar books or learn more about the subject.

Rating: five stars

“Radiation is all around us. It emanates from the sun and cosmic rays, bathing cities at high altitude in greater levels of background radiation than those at sea level. Underground deposits of thorium and uranium emit radiation, but so does masonry: stone, brick, and adobe all contain radioisotopes. The granite used to build the US Capitol is so radioactive that the building would fail federal safety codes regulating nuclear power plants. All living tissue is radioactive to some degree: human beings, like bananas, emit radiation because both contain small amounts of the radioisotope potassium 40; muscle contains more potassium 40 than other tissue, so men are generally more radioactive than women. Brazil nuts, with a thousand times the average concentration of radium of any organic product, are the world’s most radioactive food.”

― Adam Higginbotham, Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

I finally finished my work week. I am tired, expected to be exhausted, especially as I had to drag myself out of bed but at some point I got a bit of energy and I’m catching up on some stuff hoping I can sleep tonight.

In Furiously Happy, a humor memoir tinged with just enough tragedy and pathos to make it worthwhile, Jenny Lawson examines her own experience with severe depression and a host of other conditions, and explains how it has led her to live life to the fullest:

"I've often thought that people with severe depression have developed such a well for experiencing extreme emotion that they might be able to experience extreme joy in a way that ‘normal people' also might never understand. And that's what Furiously Happy is all about."

Jenny’s readings are standing room only, with fans lining up to have Jenny sign their bottles of Xanax or Prozac as often as they are to have her sign their books. Furiously Happy appeals to Jenny's core fan base but also transcends it. There are so many people out there struggling with depression and mental illness, either themselves or someone in their family—and in Furiously Happy they will find a member of their tribe offering up an uplifting message (via a taxidermied roadkill raccoon). Let's Pretend This Never Happened ostensibly was about embracing your own weirdness, but deep down it was about family. Furiously Happy is about depression and mental illness, but deep down it's about joy—and who doesn't want a bit more of that?

I listened to the audio version of this book.

Jenny Lawson is hilarious. If you have read her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened or read her blog you probably already know this…but if you haven’t, get on it.

Furiously Happy is not always a happy book, but it definitely will make you laugh. Jenny Lawson has this incredible gift for turning situations which should be horrible and somehow finding the humor in it. Whether its debilitating athritis or debilitating mental illness, Jenny Lawson is no stranger but instead of complaining about her problems-she turns to her blog to entertain the masses.

Rating: Four stars.

“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker … but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand. I hope to one day see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle, and as a celebration of the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.”

― Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Memorial Day. Aside from when I was on maternity leave, I can’t remember ever having the day off work. But here we are and of course stay at home orders are still in effect. It was still a good day, we had a picnic in the backyard.

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On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books

Every few years I have fantasies about getting a job in a library. The idea of being surrounded by books is amazing. But unfortunately that dream doesn’t seem like a viable plan.

This book though was just a little taste of the life I sometimes fantasize about. Part history, part social commentary and part homage to the old burned down LA public library, it was a fantastic escape and I loved every minute of it.

Rating: five stars

“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned. When I first heard the phrase, I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realize it was perfect. Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection of memories we’ve cataloged and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived.”

― Susan Orlean, The Library Book

After the Fire: A True Story of Friendship and Survival by Robin Gaby Fisher

Sunday’s are my day to relax…I slept in, hung out with Kiddo and read. I am reading Lilac Girls and Midnight in Chernobyl and holy shit are they both good. They are both fairly long too, so it might be a few days to get through them. Not that I’m complaining though.


After the Fire

On January 19, 2000, a fire raged through Seton Hall University's freshman dormitory, killing three students and injuring 58 others. Among the victims were Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos, roommates from poor neighborhoods who made their families proud by getting into college. They managed to escape, but both were burned terribly.

After the Fire is the story of these young men and their courageous fight to recover from the worst damage the burn unit at Saint Barnabas hospital had ever seen. It is the story of the extraordinary doctors and nurses who work with the burned. It is the story of mothers and fathers, of faith and family and the invisible ties that bind us to each other. It is the story of the search for the arsonists - and the elaborate cover-up that nearly obscured the truth. And it is the story of the women who came to love these men, who knew that real beauty is a thing not seen in mirrors.

I listened to the audiobook version of this, narrated by Richard Powers.

I hadn’t heard of this book before, but when I read the summary I knew that I had to listen to it. See, I was in high school when the Seton Hall fire happened and I found myself at the viewing of one of the victims who had graduated the year before and was a member of the marching band (I was in the color guard). It wasn’t the first time I had someone my age group die, but it was the first viewing I had gone to. I had barely known him, but it didn’t matter. Twenty years later, I still vividly remember that day.

Listening to this book was hard. It was graphic, Robin Gaby Fisher went into meticulous detail about the fire and the aftermath of the medical treatment that these two young men endured. I am already paranoid about fire and burns and it was just so difficult to listen to this. The second part was a little easier, and it was inspiring to see the young men overcome their catastropic injuries with their friendship intact.

I listened to this book in a single listening session. It was five or six hours long, and initially I started listening while working on putting laundry away but then I didn’t want to turn it off because I suspected that if I did, I wouldn’t want to return to it and I felt it was important to finish this. I’m glad I did listen to this, I just wish that this had never happened.

Rating: Five stars

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

Today was a better day at work…but then the car battery was dead so my husband was late picking me up. My car is in the shop, so of course the other car decides to act up as well. Happened last time my car needed to be fixed. Oh well, it’s Saturday and I have the next three days off.

For readers of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Unbroken, the dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics.Daniel James Brown's robust book tells the story of the University of Washington's 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.
The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.
Drawing on the boys' own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. It will appeal to readers of Erik Larson, Timothy Egan, James Bradley, and David Halberstam's The Amateurs.

I listened to the audio version of this, narrated by the late, great, Edward Herrman.

If Edward Herrman wasn’t the narrator of this book, I probably wouldn’t have read/listened to this book. I don’t follow sports, especially rowing (or crew as I think it’s called). It definitely would have gone over my radar but I enjoyed listening to Unbroken, which also would have flown over my radar.

I am glad that I gave this book a chance. It wasn’t the best book I have ever read, and honestly, there were a few times that I questioned my choice to listen to this. I held on though, and while this wasn’t my favorite book, it was the type of book that grew on me. I do enjoy stories where a person works their way up from nothing, and this was exactly that type of story. That it was a true story just makes it all the better.

Rating: Four stars.

“It takes energy to get angry. It eats you up inside. I can’t waste my energy like that and expect to get ahead. When they left, it took everything I had in me just to survive. Now I have to stay focused. I’ve just gotta take care of it myself’ Joe Rantz”

― Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Review: Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson

Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope

From Goodreads: We live in an interesting time. Materially, everything is the best it’s ever been—we are freer, healthier and wealthier than any people in human history. Yet, somehow everything seems to be irreparably and horribly f*cked—the planet is warming, governments are failing, economies are collapsing, and everyone is perpetually offended on Twitter. At this moment in history, when we have access to technology, education and communication our ancestors couldn’t even dream of, so many of us come back to an overriding feeling of hopelessness.

What’s going on? If anyone can put a name to our current malaise and help fix it, it’s Mark Manson. In 2016, Manson published The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, a book that brilliantly gave shape to the ever-present, low-level hum of anxiety that permeates modern living. He showed us that technology had made it too easy to care about the wrong things, that our culture had convinced us that the world owed us something when it didn’t—and worst of all, that our modern and maddening urge to always find happiness only served to make us unhappier. Instead, the “subtle art” of that title turned out to be a bold challenge: to choose your struggle; to narrow and focus and find the pain you want to sustain. The result was a book that became an international phenomenon, selling millions of copies worldwide while becoming the #1 bestseller in 13 different countries.

Now, in Everthing Is F*cked, Manson turns his gaze from the inevitable flaws within each individual self to the endless calamities taking place in the world around us. Drawing from the pool of psychological research on these topics, as well as the timeless wisdom of philosophers such as Plato, Nietzsche, and Tom Waits, he dissects religion and politics and the uncomfortable ways they have come to resemble one another. He looks at our relationships with money, entertainment and the internet, and how too much of a good thing can psychologically eat us alive. He openly defies our definitions of faith, happiness, freedom—and even of hope itself.

With his usual mix of erudition and where-the-f*ck-did-that-come-from humor, Manson takes us by the collar and challenges us to be more honest with ourselves and connected with the world in ways we probably haven’t considered before. It’s another counterintuitive romp through the pain in our hearts and the stress of our soul. One of the great modern writers has produced another book that will set the agenda for years to come.

I listened to the audio version of this book. Initially, I enjoyed it. It was interesting and as someone who has a potty mouth, I got a weird satisfaction of listening to a non-fiction book where fuck was the most popular word.

And then the novelty wore off and I realized that there wasn’t much cohesion in the book. Maybe it was the fact that I was listening to the audio rather than reading (and thus, absorbing more) but after a while, I sort of just lost interest. There wasn’t enough there that caught my attention and what I did get to pay attention to just made me feel even more depressed than I usually do.

I was considering reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, but now I think I’ll just skip it. Maybe I will read Mark Manson’s blog instead.

“The problem isn’t that we don’t know how not to get punched in the face. The problem is that, at some point, likely a long time ago, we got punched in face, and instead of punching back, we decided we deserved it.”
― Mark Manson, Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope