If you have anxiety or depression or just want a little extra comfort in your life, read The Comfort Book by Matt Haig. This book does not need to be read in order. This book is full of stand alone affirmations to lift you up. Haig includes a list of music that brings him comfort among essays and personal antidotes of his mental health journey.
It’s impossible not to smile while reading Little Moments of Love by Catana Chetwynd. Chetwynd has perfected a collection of comics about the sweet moments in relationships. If you want to read about the snuggly parts of romance than this book is for you. You might just want to find your coziest spot and settle in before you begin.
A young boy meets three friends in this short graphic novel, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. In this quiet and thoughtful book the four friends traverse through the wilderness all the while sharing their hopes and disappointments. Hopefully when you finish this short story you will feel loved and encouraged and optimistic about the world.
When your dreams seem impossible and you are feeling tired and beaten down, pick up For Every Oneby Jason Reynolds. In this short poem, Reynolds will encourage you to continue on through all the adversary. In this short poem we are reminded of our own strength and the power to persevere.
Huma Abedin is one of those people you’ve seen in the public eye for years, but know next to nothing about. She is best known for two things, being Hillary Clinton’s long-term personal assistant, and for being married to the scandal plagued Anthony Weiner. Her autobiography goes in depth about both of these, but also about her childhood and faith.
Abedin is a Muslim, and her faith has deep meaning for her. Abedin tells how the women of her family sought education beyond what was expected of girls — starting with her grandmother. Abedin also paints a vivid picture of her warm and charming father, who died far too young, and how the family struggled silently with the emotional pain of that loss.
We see how Abedin began to work for Hillary Clinton in what staffers called “Hillaryland,” a supportive workplace where staffers were encouraged to become leaders themselves.
Abedin also writes of how she met Anthony Weiner, and how his charm and humor swept her off her feet. She then relates how her marriage went wrong, and her pain at his deeply personal betrayals and the public humiliation from that.
This is the book that I had been waiting for. This biography came out last year in time for Charles Bukowski’s 100th Birthday, August 16, 2020. It is a rewrite of Cherkovski’s 1990 book Hank: The Life of Charles Bukowski. It is updated as Hank (Charles Bukowski’s nickname) died in 1994.
Most people have heard of Bukowski and form polarizing opinions of him. He is either seen as a drunken, womanizing, slob and bum. Or as the King of the Streets and the working underclass. Especially the drinking kind. Like all of us, he was mostly somewhere in between the extremes that the world can see us as.
Cherkovski, a fine poet himself, was a friend of Hank’s and knew him well from the 1960’s until Hank’s death in 1994. He humanizes Hank and sees the wild man, but also sees the sensitive poet within. Hank was probably the most prolific poet ever. He lived to write. He often starved to write. The rest was just a rebellion against a phony society and abusive parents. His father beat him often with a razor strap and his mother offered no help. He also had really bad acne and was a total outcast in school. All of this oppression made one great poet with no pretensions except the one he created as himself, but he winks to let you in on it.
He began writing short stories, with very few getting published. Later he wrote poems that often were like short stories. He worked at the Post Office for about a decade. He was freed from that mental slavery and physical pain at age 50 by a publisher who paid him to just write. Since poetry doesn’t make a lot of money, Hank finished a novel in three weeks called Post Office. It is short and funny. He wrote five other novels and countless books of poetry. He endured the loneliness and solitude it takes to be a prolific writer. He starved for his art like few others.
So, read this book. Read his poems and novels. You will find he was a true philosopher of human nature, much like fellow Californian Eric Hoffer, but with poems.
This is a book that I found by accident, and being a person who writes and craves solitude, this was a must read. The author’s name sort of rang a bell, but I couldn’t place him. Later I found out that Johnson grew up in Kentucky and he teaches half of the year right down the street from where I work at Spaulding University.
Much to my surprise, I had much in common with the author. His great grandfather and I have the same name. His family was close to the monks at Gethsemani. I have visited and know two friends of Thomas Merton, their most famous monk. And I got to meet Merton’s secretary. Although I’m not Catholic, I have an affinity for the monks. Johnson and I both have spent long periods of our lives living alone. Fate had a hand in this for both of us. We both crave SILENCE! And Thoreau’s simplicity, too, as a direct rebellion against consumerism as happiness.
He quotes many of my favorite people, such as Van Gogh, Eudora Welty, Henry David Thoreau, Colin Wilson, Nietzsche, James Baldwin, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Virginia Woolf. Johnson is gay, and I am not, but that doesn’t really matter. We are both outsiders by nature and circumstance. Toward the end he goes into personal Queer experiences which I have no understanding of. But, I am truly grateful that they are getting the human rights and freedoms they deserve.
The French philosopher Blaise Pascal said it best, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. So, go sit in a room alone and read At the Center of All Beauty. You’ll be glad you did.
For whatever reason I’ve spent most of my life thinking of the true crime genre as play-by-play retellings of gruesome murders and unsolved disappearances, and have only dipped into that section when in the mood for something really spooky. Recently however an account of the Isabella Gardner Museum heist came across my desk, and now to my great delight I have a backlog of thirty-something books on great art and jewel heists, solved and unsolved, ancient and modern. Likely for the same reason Robin Hood movies keep getting made, there’s just something addictive about stories of fabulous thefts, especially ones where the wealthy get a comeuppance (and nobody is really hurt once the insurance companies pay out anyway) that captivates the imagination…if told with that sense of adventure in mind. In Vino Duplicitas, a summation of the greatest wine fraud event in this century, doesn’t disappoint when it comes to a criminally twisted tale or imaginative telling.
As a wine journalist and appreciator himself, author Peter Hellman’s talent in explaining a fairly blue-blooded hobby to the everyday reader is evident from page one. He doesn’t just toss names and dates around and expect the reader to understand his context like elite wine collectors: Hellman leverages his experience describing wines and what makes them special to draw the reader in from the preface, before even diving into the story of infamous wine forger Rudy Kurniawan. An immigrant to the United States with an expired student visa and alleged access to a family fortune abroad, Kurniawan began infiltrating the world of wine in the early 2000’s. Armed with easy charm, a naturally talented palate, and enough real rare wines to generously uncork for his friends at every opportunity, he was accepted as a comrade and expert by elite names in predominately older, wealthy, white circles. They saw the passionate young man with a formidable collection of his own who hosted large parties at expensive restaurants (with a notable habit of always having the empty bottles and corks shipped back to his home as “mementos”) as a breath of fresh air, and once accepted by the wine connoisseur boy’s club, Kurniawan exploited their trust in his taste to mix counterfeit rare wines and unload them at auctions in the U.S. and internationally for untold millions of dollars.
Had his reach of his scheme not exceeded its grasp, he might have gone on counterfeiting wines for years longer than he successfully did: his marks found it unthinkable that another hobbyist would be so blasphemous as to violate the integrity of the hobby they loved, but after a point it was also unthinkable that so many bottles of wines thought lost or extinct could suddenly be procured by one person. Once the proprietors of the French wineries Kurniawan specialized in replicating started talking to each other and investigating the source of the “Frankenstein wines,” Kurniawan’s days were numbered and the FBI agents who had been dogging his tracks closed in. The book then recounts how the situation devolved into several millionaire wine collectors suing each other alongside Kurniawan in a legal flurry of betrayal and wounded pride, desperate to make an example out of anyone they could. Even a member of the politically recognizable Koch family was swindled by Kurniawan.
Despite his admissions of the lasting damage Kurniawan dealt the rare wine world and many testimonies from angry hobbyists, Hellman even still seems to hold a note of respect for something about him – perhaps his undeniable palate, perhaps the sheer amount of chaos he sowed, or perhaps like many of us who will read this book, the understanding that sometimes it’s fun to see the underdog triumph over the decadently wealthy, even if that underdog is just a shady little criminal. As the author himself supposes, “…do these folks not bear some responsibility for not doing their due diligence before throwing silly quantities of money at Kurniawan wine? Absent the guile of a consummate con man, they would have held tight to their money and their common sense.” Hellman, who includes his own conversations with Kurniawan during the time he was active among the scores of referenced others who once counted him as friend and confidante, clearly researched his book extensively as a labor of love for years during and after the fallout from Rudy Kurniawan. Using his professional profile as a wine writer the way Kurniawan used his gifted palate, Hellman was able to conduct incredibly candid interviews with almost everyone touched by Kurniawan’s schemes, from legacy winemakers to federal agents to lifelong connoisseurs, everyone who contributed to the book seemingly eager to spill the beans on the fraud that had walked among them.
In Vino Duplicitas is juicy enough as a crime story to stand on its own, but what really made the ride enjoyable for me was Hellman’s passion for the art of wine, a subject I’m generally ignorant of as a fancy hobby for the rich with little impact on me, personally. But Hellman takes us on a leisurely tour through his narrative, pausing at useful intervals to explain the story behind the 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, harvested just after the Germans were driven from France and its label emblazoned with a “V” for “victory”, and to recount the raptures of one of Kurniawan’s mentors after the con man shared with him a 140-year-old Volnay Santenots the man described as, among other things, a “mythical creature”. If a wine is rare or special, Hellman will describe for you in lush detail exactly what it is that makes that wine unforgettable. Hellman takes the reader by the hand and invites them to the lavish dinners at which Kurniawan wooed his marks, gatherings of supposed friends dining in the kind of decadence most of us can only dream of, and as a wine journalist given a glimpse of this world as an outsider himself (a working professional, not there for pleasure), Hellman seems to relate to the reader in that regard. He certainly taught me several things about wine over the course of the story I would otherwise never have picked up. Other writers without a personal interest in the world Hellman crafts for us could not have told the story of Rudy Kurniawan with half as much charm or intrigue.
I would heartily recommend In Vino Duplicitas to any fans of crime or heist television such as Catch Me If You Can or Leverage; to anyone who enjoys the schadenfreude of witnessing extremely bamboozled billionaires; and to anyone who’s always wanted to know more about the exclusive art of wine, perhaps from a helpful friend willing to share with us just what makes wine special enough for some to risk everything for.
In Northern Spy, Tessa – a producer for the BBC – claims to be largely non-political. Like everyone living and working in Northern Ireland she is impacted by conflict between Irish republicans and British loyalists, but she herself has never been involved. Then one day she looks up to see news footage of her sister Marian pulling a ski mask over her head and participating in an armed robbery. Tessa insists her sister must have been kidnapped or coerced into participating in the heist, but eventually comes to realize the sister she thought she knew so well has been secretly working for the IRA for years. When Marian tells her she may have a path for peace Tessa has to decide where her loyalties lie and how far she will go protect everything that is dear to her. This book is a fast read. The chapters are short and the plot moves quickly. This is a great read for anyone who likes mysteries and political thrillers.
Say Nothing is also about two sisters, Dolours and Marian Price. While the fictional Tessa and Marian in Berry’s book were not raised to be political, the real Price sisters were raised in a well-known republican family. Marian and Dolours were participants in several high profile bombings in the UK in the 1970’s. Both sisters spent time in jail, both were subjected to force feedings when they tried to go on hunger strikes, and both received widespread press coverage. Keefe’s investigation also turned up audio recordings, interviews Dolours Price gave to oral historians at Boston College that seem to implicate one or both sisters in the murder of Jean McConville, a single mother of ten children in 1974. Keefe’s book is wonderful at examining 400 years of conflict through the lens of a handful of IRA members and one murder. There’s a surprise twist at the end that is guaranteed to leave you with goosebumps. Say Nothing is perfect for fans of Erik Larson who want a fast-paced, well researched look at the ongoing struggle in Northern Ireland.
Warning:This review contains allusions to disordered eating, parental emotional abuse, trauma and PTSD.
With the release in December 2020 of the recent documentary, Audrey, providing a personal glimpse into internationally beloved actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn, fans of her activism, her iconic style and her legend will likely find themselves reaching for other works to provide insight and a feeling of closeness to her. I cannot more strongly recommend Robert Matzen’s Dutch Girl, an addicting biography of Hepburn’s adolescence in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands that reads like historic fiction written by your favorite World War II scholar. It is a marriage of emotion and adrenaline, crafted by a historian whose awe of his subject is apparent throughout the work, and in this intimate tribute to the origins of Hepburn’s legacy of empathy and philanthropy, it doesn’t take readers long to see his point.
Meticulously researched and assembled with the care and sentiment of a personal scrapbook, Dutch Girl is a window into Hepburn’s childhood, defined by parents whose Nazi sympathies nearly destroyed her family and contributed to the occupation and abuse of the Netherlands by Germany during World War II. We are treated to the story of a child of respectively absent and dominant personalities in a wealthy, titled family that had already begun to decline by the time Adolf Hitler rose to power, and how far that family had still to struggle. To say young, mild-mannered Audrey (so-called Adriaantje in Dutch) is the perfect perspective for readers to experience life in the Netherlands as it existed under German occupation is an understatement, and Matzen’s detailed yet fluid writing style adds to the sensation that you’re simply reading a novel about a young girl set during this time. As someone for whom ADHD makes focusing on sitting through an entire book difficult, it surprised me how quickly and easily I was sucked in to this wartime account. Even before Matzen compares the two, it’s easy to see through the story of another girl experiencing the same events from a different perspective why Otto Frank initially asked Hepburn to portray his daughter Anne when her famous diary was made into a film.
Dutch Girl sometimes veers away from a focus on Hepburn to describe significant military maneuvers by Allied or German troops and what their operations meant for Velp, the town in which Hepburn’s family relocated to try to survive the war and unwittingly placed her in both extreme danger and as privy to some of its major events in the Netherlands. But these digressions into what the S.S. was also up to at a certain time or Hepburn’s mother’s lineage and what it meant for her rarely feel distracting: Matzen is an experienced biographer who spins his historic narrative with its seemingly-unrelated factual events in an engaging way that you barely mind, and sometimes forget about Audrey Hepburn the fifteen-year-old a bit in the middle of all the excitement. When we steer back to her it is as a palate-cleanser from the adrenaline of an exciting wartime account and the emotional anchor of the book. As Hepburn’s son Luca Dotti notes in his foreword, after reading the biography, “Even I immediately forgot that there would be a happy ending for Audrey. As I read, I realized that bomb, that bullet, that German truck and its load of prisoners could simply be The End.”
We are led with Hepburn on a journey as she witnesses atrocities experienced by Jewish friends and neighbors; experiences her uncle being murdered by the SS in an assassination that would become infamous; volunteers as an errand-runner for members of the Dutch Resistance; and experiences the “Hunger Winter” of 1945 in brutal detail. But these are just the major placeholders between dozens of everyday accounts that fill the book, curated from the few occasions Hepburn ever spoke of the war and from others in her immediate community who gave accounts as well. Matzen’s thoroughness in bringing multiple facets of her experiences to life through others introduces us in depth to figures like Hepburn’s mother, the complicated and flawed Ella van Heemstra, who transitions from an outspoken supporter of Hitler’s genocidal plans to someone who finds her mind changed when it’s her own family impacted, bombed and starved, and her sons are in hiding from the threat of being drafted while she struggles to keep her daughter safe from German soldiers.
We also learn about everyday heroes of the Dutch Resistance active in Velp that Hepburn had links to: especially Dr. Hendrik Visser ‘t Hooft, an illegal-motorcycle-riding, Nazi-evading, charismatic figure in the Resistance for whom Hepburn volunteered at his hospital and who was likely the person through whom she worked with the Dutch Resistance. I have never heard his name in a history class or anywhere else, and I’m sure most people haven’t, but it was just plain fun reading about this everyday hero who used his privilege in his own community to work to safeguard his Jewish neighbors and facilitate efforts to resist fascism, even with Nazis actively marching down his streets. I now have about six books on the Dutch, German and French Resistances lined up to read, and it’s completely his fault.
A wide collection of works documenting the life of Audrey Hepburn as a starlet and later ambassador have been produced, but as the kids say, Dutch Girl just hits different. It tells the story of a complete human whose world was so much more than many know, and relatable at every turn despite taking place nearly a century ago in what likely felt like a completely different world. Artists and performers pushing themselves physically to the limit to pursue their dreams around multiple side-hustles can see themselves in Matzen’s account of Audrey’s post-war struggles, newly arrived in a different country and flinging herself from ballet to theater while still a teenager in order to earn enough money to support herself and her mother. Her complicated, lifelong relationship with food first as a child studying a physically intensive sport, nearly starving along with her entire family on “war rations”, and joyfully, chronically overeating when once again able and describing herself as a “…swollen, and unattractive, as a balloon…” when from a lifetime of photographs we know this to be an untrue perspective on her own body, will resonate with many. Children of domineering parents may recognize the origins of Hepburn’s self-criticism in her mother early on in this account of her childhood, only to be proven right towards the end of the book at Hepburn’s self-deprecating account of her mother’s casual, backhanded insults of her even at the height of her Hollywood career.
While it is impossible for those of us living in 2021 to comprehend the horrors of World War II, it feels almost familiar to read, over a year into pandemic quarantine, of a young girl forced to shelter in a basement with her family, sneaking out for a bit to get some sun in the backyard one day (and almost getting bombed by the war literally playing itself out in her backyard). It feels like a balm, or even a promise, to read about that time in her life when hope was in short supply and then celebrate with her as Matzen describes the final liberation of Velp by Canadian troops with accounts of joyful reunions with long-lost neighbors and families reuniting to rebuild. The war never ended for Audrey Hepburn in many ways that she barely let on in her lifetime, but her actions as a tireless advocate for those devastated by wars and disasters speak more loudly than the quiet interviews that earned her a reputation for mystery ever could.
Bill lived a very hard and lonely life. But an exciting life.
Born in 1914 in St. Louis to a prominent family, Harvard educated, but bored and a total misfit, he began hanging with seedy people in seedy places. Bill was a founding member of The Beat Generation that began in the late 40’s with the meeting of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg.
He began doing morphine around age 30 and was a heroin junkie for a large part of his life. This made for him a very peripatetic life around the globe (Tangiers, Paris, London) until he landed in NYC in the mid 70’s. He was always running from the law. He was in his early 60’s and managed to get another bad heroin addiction in NYC. His assistant helped him move to Kansas to get away from drugs. He was on the methadone program and smoked weed until his death at age 83.
This book explores every musician inspired by Bill’s very wild life and writings. The irony in such a book is that Bill had no interest in Rock & Roll or Punk Rock (which he is oftentimes called the Godfather of Punk Rock). But he took a great interest in the musicians that visited him. And he formed a few friendships with men young enough to be his grandsons.
He was very fond of Kurt Cobain, who visited him 6 months before Kurt committed suicide. As Kurt drove away, Burroughs remarked to his assistant, “There’s something wrong with that boy; he frowns for no good reason.”
I have read a lot about Burroughs’ life and some of his books, yet there are stories told here that I have never heard before. For example, there’s a very funny one about his first visit from Al Jourgensen, the leader of the band Ministry.
William S. Burroughs is a writer that you should know and this book is a good way to begin. Or if you already familiar with him, it is a good book to add to your knowledge of him.
I’m not going to lie, the title was the first thing that drew me to this book. Even though I am a library assistant, my bachelor’s degree is in Criminal Justice and Criminology so I’ve always wondered how a library would work in a prison. I knew they existed because of the classes I took in college but I didn’t learn how they would work.
One thing which I discovered while reading this book is how similar working in a prison library is to working in a public library. You still have the same patron looking for the newest James Patterson or other bestselling authors. You still have patrons asking random (sometimes off-the-wall) questions, seeking legal advice, and wanting the daily paper.
But I also learned what makes them different. A patron looking for the latest bestseller may be stymied due to prison rules and regulations about content. Further, budgetary considerations mean that patrons have to wait until a book is available in paperback. Also, prison libraries are subject to quite a bit of censorship, which for the most part is something that doesn’t exist in public libraries.
Reading Behind Bars isn’t a fast-paced memoir, but it was an informative read about one librarian’s first job and the lessons she learned along the way. This is an important memoir for librarians and library employees. Any reader, as well as those employed in the criminal justice field, may learn something from this memoir.
“It is hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter.”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
In 1961, C. S. Lewis published A Grief Observed, a book about the death of his wife and his journey through his grief. Nearly sixty years later, people are still connecting with Lewis’ words. I read A Grief Observedlast January, a few years after losing a dear friend. Lewis affirmed my thoughts and feelings again and again and I wished that I had read it years before when I was in the midst of my grief. Death affects all of us. The loss of a loved one is at some point brought before us and yet still we often fumble in our interactions about grief and with the griever. I think Lewis says it best when he says:
“I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate if they do, and if they don’t.”
― C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
You can’t help but feel Lewis’ deep love and subsequent anguish at the loss of his wife. His words ring true as he describes the anguish, the emptiness, the anger and finally the desideratum surrounding a life partner taken too quick. Lewis puts words to an experience all face but few can articulate in quite a poignant manner. He writes:
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”
– C. S. Lewis,A Grief Observed
How often have those who have been in a period of loss felt that restlessness with a listlessness that makes it hard to be? You can’t really sit still because you need to move before you drown further in the sadness that has grabbed hold of all of you. If you are there and you need help facing life after death, I highly recommend A Grief Observed. I recommend it for anyone who wants to witness fierce love and loss and becoming who you will be without, all that you were before.
“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.
But no, that is not quite accurate. There is one place where her absence comes locally home to me, and it is a place I can’t avoid. I mean my own body. It had such a different importance while it was the body of H.’s lover. Now it’s like an empty house.”
This sounds like a pretty heavy book, in length and depth. It is the latter. But it is “simple” heavy in its depth. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be reading it. I have a great interest in Zen, but most books are beyond my ken. I am 55 years old, and I have endured a great amount of suffering, physically and emotionally (lesson 76). Thus, I often feel that I have a lot of the Buddha within me without learning terminology, sutras, and koans. I’ve learned a little of Zen and Taoism via other authors such as Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Hanshan.
The author here, Shunmyo Masuno, breaks down 100 practices into small segments that are easy to digest and also, easy to put down and pick right back up without losing a beat. Because of chronic pain, my life has become a very cluttered existence. Both in the brain and all around me physically. So I saw this new book laying on a cart and with its sky blue cover, I was drawn it. And like a Satori, I realized that I need this book. And so I picked it up.
We are born with nothing. NOTHING! But along the way, we pick up attachment after attachment and we don’t realize the weight we are carrying within and without. And until they weight us down so much that we live in fear and anxiety, we are not mindful of how big a burden we carry with everything from ideas to cars and houses.
After reading half of this book, I realized that WOW, I KNOW all these lessons. And it is true that these lessons are simple to understand and if you have lived long enough, you may know them as well. So, for me, these lessons are a reminder to put to use what I already know. Be mindful of your life. Every second of it.
America, Louisville, and often your workplace are
full of anxiety. Learning to be calm has been helping me with all three. I tune
out the world and all its trivial news and problems. I now worry only about
what is in front of me. I cannot change the past, and can only change the
future by being calm and seeking within. The best way to calm yourself is to be
in Nature. Go take a hike. If you cannot hike, lay on a blanket in the park.
Stare at flowers. But you need to find
time alone and away from the cares of the world. Empty the Mind of all the woes
and worries that the world puts in it. Let go of attachments. But when you buy
something, treat it with love. Respect it.
This small book can help you on your journey to finding ENLIGHTENMENT. All the answers are within you. Seeking them outwardly is not the solution. I personally have trouble with ‘being positive.’ I usually hate people when they point this out. But after reading this book, I am trying hard to be POSITIVE without advertising it to anyone. Work hard to be happy in the moment. And BE IN THE MOMENT! Or as Ram Dass put it: BE HERE NOW. This book will make you think about how you spend/waste your time. And in the end, that is what life is.