humor · nonfiction · Uncategorized

NonFiction Friday: Quackery by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen

This brief history of the worst ways to cure everything is the ideal nonfiction primer on the many ways humans have attempted to extend and enhance their lives through the years. Written by a practicing medical doctor, Lydia Kang, and historian / librarian, Nate Pedersen, the book reads like a duo of friends explaining to you the  various ways science put the cart before the horse and why we should be grateful to have been born late enough to avoid so many of these treatments.


SYNOPSIS

A tour of medicine’s most outlandish misfires, Quackery dives into 35 “treatments”, exploring their various uses and why they thankfully fell out of favour – some more recently than you might think. Looking back in horror and a dash of dark humour, the book provides readers with an illuminating lesson in how medicine is very much an evolving process of trial and error, and how the doctor doesn’t always know bests. from Book Depository.


quackery

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REVIEW

This book is divided into five different divisions. Elements, Plants and Soil, Tools, Animals, and Mysterious Powers. Each divisions covers both the history and the science behind a variety of techniques or thoughts about certain cures. Interspersed with sarcasm and dark humor, this book’s only downside is the inclination to read whole sections out to family and friends and become that person that just won’t shut up about they book they are reading.

Elements was, by far, my favorite section but that is because I am fascinated by poisons right now. In this section the authors comb through the various uses and reasoning behind using mercury, antimony, arsenic, gold, and radium. It turns out that in the past, being extremely pale but also plump was a difficult ideal to meet naturally. Apparently no one ever tried sitting inside during a pandemic and just eating through your food supply. Arsenic gave you all that and a painful death! I’ll take my lockdown and donuts please.

Plants and Soil were almost as fascinating because this section covers opiates, strychnine, tobacco, cocaine, alcohol, and earth. I knew that alcohol was used medicinally. But I had no idea that strychnine was considered an energy booster that was recommended to athletes. The 1904 winner of the Olympic marathon, Thomas Hicks, was given two strychnine doses and finished the race clearly in the throws of strychnine intoxication. Also of note, drinking water was considered unhealthy for athletes during this time.

This was also the section where I became completely annoying. After all, here is where I learned the origin of the term, “blow smoke up your arse.” Anyone over the age of 65 probably had someone blow tobacco smoke in their ear. It was a commonly recommended treatment for earaches. But, British physicians took it to the next level when they recommended a nice tobacco enema for any drowning victim. There was a whole organization dedicated to this cause! Just picture people walking up and down the banks of the Thames with their enema kits ready to pull someone out and save a life! There is no mention in this book on whether it worked (ever) but this is the fact that I just couldn’t stop taking about. Etymology, history, and science are rolled into renegade lifeguards? Yes, please!

After this section the book covers tools, animals, and mysterious powers. I enjoyed each of these sections in turn but the book had already won my heart. Although, the section on corpse medicine shouldn’t be read while eating…

It seems only fitting that, as I was finishing this book, President Trump was loudly touting the combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as a promising treatment for COVID. Meanwhile Dr. Fauci, a veteran of outbreaks dating back to the HIV crisis here in America, emphasized a need for methodical clinical testing prior to taking these medicines. I am generally not pleased with our President but I would be more than happy to celebrate his instincts being correct in this situation. However, after reading Quackery, taking a medicine on a hutch smacks of another “worst way” to cure our current crisis.

This book emphasized what I have long held dear – quality testing. I don’t want anecdotal evidence that the King’s touch cures boils. Prove it to me. One of my biggest take aways from the whole book is that it was probably a good thing that so many people couldn’t afford medical treatments for large parts of history. Because, certainly, the radium spa would set you back a pretty penny. And, in a time when blood soaked aprons were the mark of a good doctor and hand washing wasn’t a thing, I don’t know that turning to a professional did anyone much good.


Tell me, please!

If you had to pick, are you more interested in science or history?


 

Audio Book · nonfiction

Nonfiction Friday: Cary Grant, A Class Apart by Graham McCann

Graham McCann’s autobiography of Cary Grant carries the reader through his life from birth to death with intimate looks at every stage. I have loved Cary Grant since the first time I laid eyes on him and this book did nothing to shake that love.


SYNOPSIS

A biography narrating how the English working-class boy Archie Leach transformed himself into the actor Cary Grant and a role model of elegance and class for the socially ambitious around the world. from Amazon.


carygrant


REVIEW

This is, quite possibly, the shortest synopsis I have ever seen for a book. Understandably so, since few people are ignorant of Cary Grant’s existence or his lasting impact on the silver screen. Take, for example, this classic bit.

An interview with a Two Hour Old Baby

Interviewer: Do you know the important people in the world today?

Two Hour Old Baby: Well, some. I don’t know, I’m not sure.

Interviewer: You don’t know what you know?

Two Hour Old Baby: No.

Interviewer: Do you know, for instance, Mickey Mouse?

Two Hour Old Baby: No.

Interviewer: Queen Elizabeth?

Two Hour Old Baby: No.

Interviewer: Winston Churchill?

Two Hour Old Baby: Ah, no,

Interviewer: Fidel Castro?

Two Hour Old Baby? No.

Interviewer: Pandit Nehru?

Two Hour Old Baby: No.

Interviewer: Have you heard of Cary Grant?

Two Hour Old Baby: Oh, sure! Everybody knows Cary Grant!

Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, “The Two Hour Old Baby” from Cary Grant, A Class Apart.

Before reading this book I felt the same as the Two Hour Baby. That I knew Cary Grant. After all, I possessed the knowledge that Cary Grant was born Archie Leach, that he had a strange relationship with his Mother, and that he made an enormous number of movies. I even knew about his solo front top tooth. Look at me – I’m a massive fan! Blah. I knew nothing.

Cary Grant was indeed born Archie Leach. But, he didn’t change his name until he was 27. That is a longtime to inhabit one name only to become intertwined with another. Which makes it all the more understandable that Grant frequently referred to Archie in real life and in movies.

A “strange relationship with his Mother”? That is the understatement of the year for me! Grant’s Mother was committed to an asylum when he was a child. She was home one day and gone the next. Grant was told she was going to a resort to rest and, at one point, he was told that she had died. Really, his father just wanted her out of the way so he could start a new life with his current mistress. Only after his Father’s death did the payments to the asylum stop and Grant found out his Mother was still alive. She disappeared when he was 11 and he discovered her again at 30.

Furthermore, I think I have seen 15-20 of Grant’s films. That isn’t even half of the SEVENTY-TWO films he made in his lifetime. I was just blown away by the sheer number of films. I am nearly as impressed by the number as I am by the fact that when Grant declared himself retired he actually retired.

This book is full of such interesting tidbits and information that the hours listening to it passed too quickly. The more I learned about Grant the more I realized I actually understood the most important thing: the magic of Cary Grant. Cary Grant was, and will probably remain forever, the master of making everyone feel that they knew and liked him through his movies. Whether a movie did well or not, Grant remained unscathed. It just took a moment, a small tug at the corner of his mouth, or the twinkle in his eye, to hook you. And once he did, it was forever.

Considering this magical quality, it would be difficult to write about someone like Cary Grant and not fall in love with him. McCann might be accused of this, but who wouldn’t be? Still, the biography feels balanced and fact-based in contrast to some that have been published before and have relied heavily on gossip and conjecture. In the end, I became just a little more infatuated with the actor. Which, if I were being honest, I didn’t think was possible.


Tell me, please!

Have you ever been a fan of someone’s work only to discover there was so much you didn’t know about them?


 

nonfiction

Nonfiction Friday: Burnout, The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski

For a term I had never heard of before, “Burnout” is my new go-term term for being at the edge of insanity. This engaging and insightful book is a must read for women everywhere who are just about to give up.


SYNOPSIS

Burnout. Many women in America have experienced it. What’s expected of women and what it’s really like to be a woman in today’s world are two very different things—and women exhaust themselves trying to close the gap between them. How can you “love your body” when every magazine cover has ten diet tips for becoming “your best self”? How do you “lean in” at work when you’re already operating at 110 percent and aren’t recognized for it? How can you live happily and healthily in a sexist world that is constantly telling you you’re too fat, too needy, too noisy, and too selfish?

Sisters Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, are here to help end the cycle of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Instead of asking us to ignore the very real obstacles and societal pressures that stand between women and well-being, they explain with compassion and optimism what we’re up against—and show us how to fight back. In these pages you’ll learn

• what you can do to complete the biological stress cycle—and return your body to a state of relaxation
• how to manage the “monitor” in your brain that regulates the emotion of frustration
• how the Bikini Industrial Complex makes it difficult for women to love their bodies—and how to defend yourself against it
• why rest, human connection, and befriending your inner critic are keys to recovering and preventing burnout

With the help of eye-opening science, prescriptive advice, and helpful worksheets and exercises, all women will find something transformative in these pages—and will be empowered to create positive change. Emily and Amelia aren’t here to preach the broad platitudes of expensive self-care or insist that we strive for the impossible goal of “having it all.” Instead, they tell us that we are enough, just as we are—and that wellness, true wellness, is within our reach. from Amazon.


burnout
“Burnout” Pink Cover with ripped page

REVIEW

Burnout is defined in this book by three components: (1) emotional exhaustion – the fatigue that comes from caring too much, for too long; (2) depersonalization – the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion; and (3) decreased sense of accomplishment – an unconquerable sense of futility; feeling that nothin you do makes any difference.

Upon first reading this, I felt I’d been spotted. There must be cracks in my facade!

But I am in good company. According to the authors, “burnout” is a phenomena affecting whole groups of people who work in positions of, “people helping people.” Teachers, medical professionals, humanitarian aid workers, and parents are all suffering from burnout in large numbers. Oddly, women are more deeply and specifically impacted.

Now, as a die-heard feminist I like to believe that men are just as susceptible to things as women are capable. However, in this case, I have to agree with the authors. As they walk the reader through historic gender problems, most specifically “human giver syndrome,” it is difficult to argue that differing treatment in childhood wouldn’t have some impact. I can accept that women who are raised to believe that being thin is good and looking pretty is important will result in burnout just as easily as toxic masculinity has roots in “boys will be boys” and “real men don’t cry.”

Be nice, be strong, be polite. No feelings for you

The chapters are broken down into manageable chunks of pertinent information. It was clear to me that the authors had taught because each chapter laid the foundation for the one before it and built on the prior. And, for those who need reminders or who are too busy to read the details they provided a Too Long Didn’t Read (TLDR) at the end of each chapter. By using personal anecdotes, stories from friends, and those from popular fiction, the book was as fun to read as it was informative. Although, I could have done with a lot less Moana references (but that’s just me!).

Chapters one and two clearly lay out what is causing stress in most women’s lives and how to deal with it. Some of the information was new to me but the fact that really stunned me was the notion that our bodies need to get rid of stress. Whether that it through exercise, affection, or even creative measures, we are biologically programmed to need that outlet. Sounds simple enough but they way they explained it resonated with me so deeply I have completely transformed the way I work out and how I prioritize sleep.

Things were a little less solid for me in certain sections. For example, chapter three was about meaning, as in the meaning of life. While your life having “meaning” is one of the main elements that promotes happiness finding your “Something Larger” is important for feeling that your life has a positive impact. Initially I struggled with this section because how can you have “something larger” and avoid falling victim to “human giver syndrome?” But, I suppose being a stay-at-home Mom because you want to be is entirely different than being one because society limits you to that role. Similarly, I can make monetary sacrificing in my career if I want to do that kind of work as long as I am not limited to my choice of jobs by what is appropriate for a woman.

The remainder of the book explains why what sounds simply is so difficult for women. From acknowledging that the game is rigged, fighting the patriarchy, and gaslighting, being a women is fundamentally difficult. And if you don’t get a chance to read the book just know this fact,

“The body mass index (BMI) chart and it labels – underweight, overweight, obese, etc. – were created by a panel of nine individuals, seven of whom were ’employed by weight-loss clinics and thus have an economic interest in encouraging use of their facilities.'”

For every woman out there who is feeling crushed under the weight of the world, this book really helped me. I used to look around at my male friends and wonder, “Why are they so carefree, what’s wrong with me?” There is nothing wrong with me. I was just experiencing burnout.


Tell me, please!

Do you ever feel uniquely stressed?


 

Audio Book · nonfiction

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History by Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally

This audiobook version of Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally’s book was like listening to the two of them over a long dinner. Listening to them flirt, chat, compliment, and reminisce will show even the hardest heart what a beautiful marriage can look like.


SYNOPSIS

At last, the full story behind Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman’s epic romance, including stories, portraits, and the occasional puzzle, all telling the smoldering tale that has fascinated Hollywood for over a decade.

The year: 2000. The setting: Los Angeles. A gorgeous virtuoso of an actress had agreed to star in a random play, and a basement-dwelling scenic carpenter had said he would assay a supporting role in the selfsame pageant. At the first rehearsal, she surveyed her fellow cast members, as one does, determining if any of the men might qualify to provide her with a satisfying fling. Her gaze fell upon the carpenter, and like a bolt of lightning, the thought struck her: No dice. Moving on.

Yet, unbeknownst to our protagonists, Cupid had merely set down his bow and picked up a rocket launcher. Then fired a love rocket (not a euphemism). The players were Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman, and the resulting romance, once it ignited, was… epic. Beyond epic. It resulted in a coupling that has endured to this day; a sizzling, perpetual tryst that has captivated the world with its kindness, athleticism, astonishingly low-brow humor, and true (fire emoji) passion.

How did they do it? They came from completely different families, endured a significant age difference, and were separated by the gulf of several social strata. Megan loved books and art history; Nick loved hammers. But much more than these seemingly unsurpassable obstacles were the values they held in common: respect, decency, the ability to mention genitalia in almost any context, and an abiding obsession with the songs of Tom Waits.

Eighteen years later, they’re still very much in love, and have finally decided to reveal the philosophical mountains they have conquered, the lessons they’ve learned, and the myriad jigsaw puzzles they’ve completed, in an audiobook. Featuring anecdotes, hijinks, interviews, photos, and a veritable grab bag of tomfoolery, this is not only the intoxicating audiobook that Mullally’s and Offerman’s fans have been waiting for, it might just hold the solution to the greatest threat facing our modern world: the single life. from Amazon


thegreatestlovestory
“The Greatest Love Story Ever Told” Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally sit together surrounded by pink roses.

REVIEW

After I finished listening to Yes, Please by Amy Poehler I watched all of Parks and Rec and became fairly obsessed with Nick Offerman’s character Ron. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that he was married to Megan Mullally but, honestly, I didn’t really give it much thought. That is, until I saw Ron and Tammy on Parks and Rec. Ron and Tammy are hilarious. So, obviously, when this audiobook came across my path I decided to pick it up. This is five and a half hours of joyful and insightful listening!

Now, I’ve got to say, Nick and Megan are not afraid to talk about sex. So, if dirty jokes and not-veiled remarks about their sex life lies outside of your comfort zone just know that this book is pretty rife with them.

This book is certain to make people jealous of their happy marriage but not me. Instead, I was so thrilled to hear that this kind of love exists. I am sure that they fight (they do touch on several arguments) but they have the kind of relationship that seems built to last, one with shared interests and mutual respect for their solo projects.

What I was envious instead of Nick and Megan’s vocabulary. I have a fairly good grasp of the English language and I had to pause the audiobook SEVEN times to rewind and look up a word.

If you are stuck in dating hell, this book has some solid advice on how to find a significant other: do your own thing, be nice, and say yes to opportunities. I’m summarizing here and it is absolutely worth a listen but that is the gist. Dating sites, set ups, and bar hopping may work for some people, but it is easier to just keep moving your life forward and your eyes open. Also, it seems, being super confident in yourself might help.

Whether you pick up this audiobook for the humor, the romance, or just to listen to the witty and melodious banter of these two you will not be disappointed!


Tell me, please!

Do you enjoy celebrity memoirs?


 

nonfiction

Nonfiction Friday: Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler had flown under my radar for years but she has my full attention now. I actually finished this book in 2019 (which is a measly four years after it was published) but it has stuck with me. Mostly because Amy has flawless diction. Being able to understand each and every word without undercutting a joke is a true gift. Especially for audiobook listeners who can’t resist speeding up the books to at least 1.25 (me). But also because Amy is the kind of woman we should all want to be – one who is just as comfortable with themselves as they are with vastly different women.


SYNOPSIS

GRAMMY NOMINEE

Audie Award, Humor, 2015

Amy Poehler is hosting a dinner party and you’re invited! Welcome to the audiobook edition of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. The guest list is star-studded with vocal appearances from Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Michael Schur, Patrick Stewart, Kathleen Turner, and even Amy’s parents – Yes Please is the ultimate audiobook extravaganza.

Also included? A one-night-only live performance at Poehler’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Hear Amy read a chapter live in front of a young and attractive Los Angeles audience.

While listening to Yes Please, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll become convinced that your phone is trying to kill you. Don’t miss this collection of stories, thoughts, ideas, lists, and haikus from the mind of one of our most beloved entertainers. Offering Amy’s thoughts on everything from her “too safe” childhood outside of Boston to her early days in New York City, her ideas about Hollywood and “the biz”, the demon that looks back at all of us in the mirror, and her joy at being told she has a “face for wigs” – Yes Please is chock-full of words, and wisdom, to live by. from Amazon.


REVIEW

“Good for her, not for me.” Amy Poehler.

This is the quote that won me over. When Amy see another women doing something differently than she does, she doesn’t think a series of negative thoughts about herself or the other women. Instead, she just says, “Good for her, not for me.” When her friend Maya Rudolph chose to have a drug-free home birth she though, “Good for her, not for me,” as she plotted precisely how early she could get her epidural. I try not tojudge other women but I am terrible at assuming they are judging me.

Maybe its because I’m a nerd and I’ve been a nerd since long before that was cool. I know judgment! And, as a nerd, my eyes always gravitated to the person next to Amy’s blond effervescence. Whether that was Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, or even Aubrey Plaza, there was always someone next to Amy that I found more easy to identify with than this petite, perky, blond, hilarious woman.

Just look at the cover of her book. It still doesn’t appeal to me. She looks like the confident woman telling us all she is number one. I love that the title is one of her life mantras but I still don’t entirely understand why they posed her this way. Maybe I’m intimidated by her confidence? Actually, you know what, I think I’m going to practice this pose in front of the mirror because she looks boss. 

I’m back. I tried it. It was a stupid look for me. I’m too tall. Good for her, not for me.

yes,please
The neon pink all caps sign saying “Yes Please” sits above a blond woman holding her hand high in the air with her index finger extended.

Amy’s book gave us what all great autobiographies do: an insight into where the person came from, what it was like to experience things we have only seen on television, and tidbits that surprise the listener. But this book is also filled with reflections on choices she made and how she has managed her career in a male dominated field. I especially love the bit where she advises we treat rude and overbearing people as though they are actors that have forgotten their lines.

In the audiobook, she has guests and it is freaking awesome. I will admit, I put the book on regular speed for Patrick Stewart because his voice is glorious and should never be rushed. All of these stories from guests and from Amy herself are tightly woven and I was left with a deep desire to spend more time with this person. In fact, I powered my way through all of Parks and Rec after this book and came out the other side more in love with Amy. Perhaps not quite as much as I grew to love Ron but who doesn’t love Ron?

The book really won me over when she exposed her weaknesses, her mistakes, and all the things she did wrong. Whether it was mocking a child with disabilities (a cardinal sin in my book), drinking and driving, or living off her parents for years, Amy talked about it. More importantly, she talked about the regrets she had about her actions and what she has done to amend those she hurt. Much like Elton John’s Me, I felt in Amy a person focused on being just a little bit better tomorrow than she was yesterday. And what is more lovable than that?

It didn’t bother me that Amy refused to give details about her divorce. Or that she has a boyfriend while writing the book but doesn’t name him. I didn’t pick up the audiobook to listen to her read her Wikipedia page. I just wanted to understand her more. In the end, I think this book is less autobiography, and more listening to a hilarious friend give you advice. Do I think you should read it? Yes, please.


Tell me, please!

Do you enjoy celebrity autobiographies?


 

nonfiction

NonFiction Friday: Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Neil Gaiman

A nonfiction look at the science fiction Multiplatform phenomenon that is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy told by master storyteller Neil Gaiman. Whether you are just a minor enthusiast or consider yourself full fledged fun, this book will make you fall just a little more in love with The Guide.

 


 

The first time I experienced The Hitchhiker’s Guide was via the 2005 movie starring Martin Freeman and narrated by Stephen Fry. The only time I had laid eyes on the book it was a compendium at a friend’s house that was approximately four inches thick and, at the time, I had no desire to read a sci-fi bible. I didn’t know that it was actually six books!

Fast forward: the movie was accessible, weird, and hooked me. I’m a fan. Since then, I have enjoyed the stories and even ventured into Dick Gently territory. During a bought of insomnia I spotted Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by none other than Neil Gaiman. Two obsessions in one! Would it be worth a read?

Spoiler: It was amazing


dontpanic


SYNOPSIS

Douglas Adams’s “six-part trilogy,” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy grew from a blip of a notion into an ever-expanding multimedia universe that amassed an unprecedented cult of followers and became an international sensation. As a young journalist, Neil Gaiman was given complete access to Adams’s life, times, gossip, unpublished outtakes, and files (and became privy to his writing process, insecurities, disillusionments, challenges, and triumphs). The resulting volume illuminates the unique, funny, dramatic, and improbable chronicle of an idea, an incredibly tall man, and a mind-boggling success story.

In Don’t Panic, Gaiman celebrates everything Hitchhiker: the original radio play, the books, comics, video and computer games, films, television series, record albums, stage musicals, one-man shows, the Great One himself, and towels. And as Douglas Adams himself attested: “It’s all absolutely devastatingly true—except the bits that are lies.”

Updated several times in the thirty years since its original publication, Don’t Panic is available for the first time in digital form. Part biography, part tell-all parody, part pop-culture history, part guide to a guide, Don’t Panic “deserves as much cult success as the Hitchhiker’s books themselves” (Time Out via Amazon)


REVIEW

The biggest surprise for me? That these stories began as a radio program, then were books, then a play, a television show, then video games and finally movies. I think. There were also records in there somewhere. In hindsight, it’s all so clear now. These wonderfully weird stories makes so much more sense when you know that they were originally intended for radio and radio alone. It was Adam’s curiosity and desire to do things he deemed “interesting” that spurred him to change platforms so frequently and to seek the best manner to do it.

Adam’s may have been known for his ingenuity but he was equally infamous for his inability to get a writing project in on time. As Gaiman puts it, “This not-writing quality was to become a hallmark of Douglas’s later work.” If you are a writer and you are feeling that procrastination picks on you, please read this book. Adam’s ability to put off his writing projects until past due and then lock himself up and finish the work is legendary. I, however, do not recommend some of his coping mechanisms or the lengths to which his friends would go to in order to seclude him until he finished his work.

Adams may have developed amazing world building and loved his many projects but this quote about writing fully encapsulates his feelings about his chosen profession, “Writing comes easy. All you have to do is stare at a blank piece of paper until your forehead bleeds.” He even made notes for himself on his writing telling himself to find a regular job and then later noting that this was after a “regular day” of writing, not a bad one. And still the stories came.

Reading this book put the fear of God in me about the lengths publication companies would go to in order to get a book finished. Even though his publisher knew that he would turn in the second book late and they planned for it in their schedule, they still moved him out of his shared apartment and into a flat all his on one afternoon. As Adam’s remembers it,

“It was extraordinary. One of those times you really go mad…I can remember the moment I thought, ‘I can do it! I’ll actually get it finished in time!’ (Everything) contributed to the sense of insanity and hypnotism that allowed me to write a book in that time.”

How Gaiman manages to keep this book light and funny is a testament to his own writing because Adam’s struggle with writing and procrastination continued for the remainder of his life. Further complicating his path was the bold statement after the second Hitchhiker’s book that it would be his very last. But, then he wrote four more. Four more. And after each additional story he would boldly state that he would never again write another. But the story just had to come out. Or, you know, Adams needed a paycheck.

If you enjoyed The Hitchhiker’s Guide in any of the formats available to the general public you will undoubtedly enjoy Don’t Panic and the adventures of being Douglas Adams.


Tell me, please!

Who is your favorite Hitchhiker’s character?


 

Audio Book · FrighteninglyGoodRead · nonfiction · Over 18

NonFiction Friday: Me by Elton John

Elton John has been a major star my entire life. I remember him singing at Princess Diana’s funeral and I have always been impressed by the work his AIDS foundation does for the world. I love all of his popular songs and I was aware of his struggle with addiction. But I wouldn’t have considered myself an Elton John fan. That is, until I read Me, his new autobiography. All of the things that knew or liked about Elton John have been transformed into full blown admiration.

me
cover of Elton John book “”Me” featuring Elton wearing rainbow sunglasses

Here are the Top Ten things I learned and love about Elton John.

10. Elton John was born Reginald Dwight in Pinner, Middlesex. Pinner sounds like every small town everywhere in the developed world. His talent in music was evident from an early age and he quickly went from playing his grandmother’s piano to winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.

9. Elton John only met his long time writing partner Bernie Taupin when he was rejected for a job with Ray Williams. Even though Elton had been in Bluesology and working as a studio musician for years, he was really going nowhere until he met Bernie. Rejection + Happen Chance meeting = the success we know today. The mega-star Elton John we know today is a direct result of a failure.

8. Elton John was a late bloomer and didn’t understand sex or that he was gay until he was 21.

7. Elton John has a terrible temper and he knows it. I know a lot of people with terrible tempers but the ones that are aware of this defect in their nature have always been near and dear to my heart since I myself fly off the handle like a cartoon character on occasion.

6. Elton John is always looking for a new challenge and this desire for self improvement has led him to say yes to numerous opportunities he intially thought were outside of his comfort zone. The Lion King is just one of those projects. I can only hope that one day my growth mindset leads me to such an opportunity.

5. He maintains a strong connection with all the performers that inspired him and believes that artists should support the next generation of performers. Lady Gaga has changed his children’s diapers and he is Eminem’s sobriety sponsor. He found artists that inspired him and recorded with them, performed with them, or found them jobs when their jobs ran out. This open door policy didn’t always mean that he got along with everyone (ahem, Tina Turner), but it does mean that his mind is always open to the possibility of collaborating. This open door policy also applies to people who hold different ideals than Elton.

4. Even though Elton John is a gay man who lived through the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s and 90’s and he sang on, “That’s What Friends are For,” in 1986, he didn’t become the fundraiser and humanitarian for AIDS that I always thought he was until the 1990s. His inspiration for getting involved was after the death of Ryan White in 1990 and Freddie Mercury’s subsequent death in 1991. In 1992 he founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation and, to date, it has raised over $450 Million dollars. It is never to late to get involved and make a difference.

3. Elton John loves his hometown football team of Watford. At one point he was a chairman for the team and he still takes his boys to games.

2. He knows that the surest way to failure is to surround yourself with people who always agree with you.

1. “There’s really no point in wondering ‘what if?’ but instead to focus on ‘what’s next'” is the quote Elton puts at the end of his autobiography. This sums up his life so perfectly.


I had the pleasure of listening to this as an audiobook and Taron Egerton is absolutely perfect as the narrator. I haven’t seen the biopic of Elton’s life starring Taron but it is clear that he really understands Elton John at his core. If I was going to make one criticism it is that now I am having a difficult time not picturing Taron Egerton as the real Elton John.

This will definitely be one of my top audiobooks of 2020.


Tell me, please!

Which autobiography is your favorite?


 

nonfiction

NonFiction Friday: January 3, 2020 The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss


This post contains affiliate links. For more information please see my disclosure.

I first read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas in high school during a period of time when I fantasized almost constantly about revenge. I complained one too many times to my Dad who recommended I read what he called, “the ultimate book of revenge,” and I have been a fan of The Count since. I re-read it every five years or so and I am always struck by the sheer power and fortitude of Edmond Dantes. 

In 2018’s NonFiction November I saw The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. It was recommended for all fans of Dumas’ fiction work and I knew I had to read it. Sadly, it joined my shelf for more than a year until I pulled it off for 2019’s NonFiction November. But I must say, if you enjoyed the tale Dumas wove in The Count you will love the true story of his grandfather and the unbelievable life he lead that inspired so many of the author’s larger than life characters.

blackcount


Synopsis

WINNER OF THE 2013 PULITZER PRIZE FOR BIOGRAPHY

“General Alex Dumas is a man almost unknown today, yet his story is strikingly familiarbecause his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used his larger-than-life feats as inspiration for such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

But, hidden behind General Dumas’s swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: he was the son of a black slavewho rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time. Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas made his way to Paris, where he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolutionuntil he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.

The Black Count is simultaneously a riveting adventure story, a lushly textured evocation of 18th-century France, and a window into the modern world’s first multi-racial society. TIME magazine called The Black Count “one of those quintessentially human stories of strength and courage that sheds light on the historical moment that made it possible.” But it is also a heartbreaking story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son.” The Black Count from Amazon.


Review

I had the pleasure of listening to this book as an audiobook and reading it in tandem. If you, like me, love a good accent, the narrator of the audiobook does the most glamorous and beautiful French pronunciation of all the individual’s names and geographical locations. Meanwhile, my brain reads everything like, “Alex-an-der Doo-maah.” For that reason alone, the audiobook is worth a listen.

I loved the characters that Dumas created but the deep and profound respect I have for his grandfather, Alex Dumas, cannot really be described. A man of honor and romance is hard to find but a powerfully built one who is a master sword fighter and dedicated family man? This is the stuff of legends. Apparently, his grandson agreed because between GeorgesThe Three Muskateers, and The Count of Monte Cristo, the author Dumas retolded his grandfather’s heroic feats again and again using him as inspiration for a range of characters.

Honestly, I assumed before reading The Black Count that many of Dumas’ tales and deeds had become wildly exaggerated. But the meticulous research done by Tom Reiss proved that there was more fact than familial fiction in these stories. The want-to-be historian in me was wildly applauding the length that Mr. Reiss went to in order to get his hands on the Dumas family documents. Listening to how he managed to get those documents out of the locked safe had me applauding as I walked down the street.

But, The Black Count didn’t just provide me with a well researched history of the Dumas family, it also gave me a real understanding of French revolutionary history. Balancing the economics, the wildly swinging social changes, and the general upheaval of the era Reiss brings the day to day craziness of the period alive. And, while economics are my least favorite part of history, the author brings bouts of humor in to break up any monotony. The confusion in France as to who were the ‘brigands’ was especially memorable and had me laughing every time the narrator said “brigand’ again for the remainder of the book.

Another aspect of The Black Count that will stay with me forever are the powerful letters Alex Dumas wrote to his wife. The loving way he addresses her, “my beloved,” and “to the only person I care about in the whole world,” is matched only by the manner of his signature, “your friend for life,” and “your best friend.” It set my romantic heart aflame. Just picturing this larger than life figure writing such beautiful things gave real depth to the character Dumas the author later created and renewed my adolescent crush on Edmond Dantes.

All of this aside, it should not be ignored that much like the Lone Ranger, this iconic character’s ancestry has been (white) washed away. General Dumas was born in present day Haiti and, as the son of a black slave, his rise to his own personal military history is fraught at every turn by changing social acceptance of black people. The range of thinking about the children of slaves or individuals with any black ancestry seemed to change on a whim during that time. The fact that General Dumas was able to rise so far with the addition of Napoleon and the social racism of the day just makes this individual even more unbelievable.

In deed, General Alex Dumas’ life and his place in historical is so audacious and fantastical that there were many times I could not believe I was reading a book of nonfiction. But not matter the fantasy feel, Reiss’ The Black Count is a masterfully researched historical piece that will now live alongside my copy of The Count of Monte Cristo.


Tell me, please!

Who Would You Cast as Edmond Dantes in a Remake of The Count of Monte Cristo?


 

nonfiction

Kindness and Wonder, Why Mr. Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever by Gavin Edwards

“Don’t you like to be with real people? People who aren’t afraid to make mistakes, and people who just know that life is a gift and relish in it?” Fred Rogers

One of the most terrifying moments of television for me was when Mr. Rogers was on Candid Camera. I watched Mr. Rogers on PBS as a kid and I adored him. He talked to us about everything; feelings, death, how to make friends, and how people were different. I didn’t enjoy the land of make-believe, I wanted facts as a child. And Fred Rogers delivered on that front by taking us to factories long before How It’s Made debuted. He meticulously worked through complicated ideas for us. And the glorious music! It was not a show for adults. It was just for us.

Years and years later, while watching Candid Camera, there was his familiar face. Candid Camera was trying to aggravate people by giving them a room without a television and I watched, while holding my breath, to see if this would be the undoing of a childhood hero. I shouldn’t have worried, Mr. Rogers was the same person I had watched everyday. A little older, but just as kind. You can see the clip here. Thank goodness, he was real.

kindnessandwonderKindness and Wonder, Why Mr. Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever by Gavin Edwards is a lovingly written biography of the man and the show. Fred Rogers grew up in the wealthiest family in his town but that a combination of his wealth and asthma led him to be isolated for his own safety and often playing alone. His ability to remember his childhood and the way he felt during those times gave such vulnerability and credibility to his message. His mission, to use all of his gifts, combined with his understanding and his constant desire to help is what created the magic that was, and for many children still is, Mister Rogers Neighborhood.

This book not only reminded me of all the things I love about Fred Rogers it also gave me the personal side of why he did the things he did. Certainly, the biggest complaint most people have about Mr. Rogers is the pace of his deliver. But, he was so determined to be both a good listener and a person whose words children could rely on that he learned to carefully select his words whenever he spoke. His show was scripted and he insisted that everyone adhere to the script. Adults may not have enjoyed it but that was fine since he only cared about how children felt. He knew the power of the right word to a child and he made sure to work hard to provide all the best words, phrases, and messages.

Mr. Rogers cared so deeply he is often credited with single handedly saving public television as we know it today. In 1969 President Nixon wanted to cut the budget for public broadcasting to free up funds for the war in Vietnam. President Johnson had budgeted twenty million dollars for public broadcasting and Nixon wanted to cut it in half. Mr. Rogers appeared before the subcommittee late on the second day of a two day hearing to face an already disgruntled Senator Pastore. As Mr. Rogers took the witness table it seemed that the subcommittee was unconvinced that public television would put the full amount to any good use. In fact, so sick of hearing from people, the Senator had said he would listen to no more pre-prepared statements.

But, through his quiet way, Mr. Rogers impressed upon the committee how the funding would help children process the inner drama of childhood. His argument was so eloquently put and so concisely phrased he gave Senator Pastore goosebumps. You can watch, in this video, the Senator’s mind being changed in less than seven minutes. It was how much Mr. Rogers cared for children and how important that work was that made the Senator declare, “Looks like you just earned the twenty million dollars.”

Whether you enjoyed the show or not, even if you haven’t seen a single episode, this book will impress you at the sheer determination this individual put into being a good neighbor. And isn’t that something we should all aspire to be? The author gives ten ways to be more like Mister Rogers today:

Be deep and simple

Be kind to strangers

Make a joyful noise

Tell the truth

Connect with other people every way you can

Love your neighbors

Find the light in the darkness

Always see the very best in other people

Accept the changing seasons

Share what you’ve learned (all your life)

And I want a neighborhood expression of care. Because we still need someone telling us all “You’ve made this day a special day, just by being you. There’s no one in the whole world like you and I like you just the way you are.” And, today, it starts with me. So, if you are reading this, just know:

I like you just the way you are.


Tell me, please!

Who is a childhood hero you aspire to emulate?


 

nonfiction

Snacks: A Canadian Food History by Janis Thiessen

One of the best days of my childhood was when my Mom bought my brother and I a gigantic bag of Willie Wonka candy, popped on original version of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and left the two of us to eat all the candy we wanted. The ability to self-monitor our consumption without our younger sisters or parents watching was the most grown up and indulgent moments of my life. I was probably somewhere between eight and ten and I will never forget that feeling.

Snacks, whether they be sweet or salty, are woven through so many people’s lives. We all have our favorite holiday snacks (I’m a sucker for those nuts in a shell that show up here around Thanksgiving) our favorite movie snack (Popcorn with peanut butter M&Ms mixed in) and our the snack we don’t understand (Kale chips people, really?). But, until this book, I hadn’t given much thought to the snack business itself.

snacksSnacks: A Canadian Food History by Janis Thiessen is a thoroughly researched book focusing on the Canadian snack industry. We see chips, chocolates, and candies in the isles of our local grocery stores, but the history of these businesses and the impact of politics and corporate mythology was never something I had pondered. I was struck by the complicated growth of many of these companies. But, I was most struck by the individual pride of the workers that has taken massive blows with the current snobbish attitude towards snack foods.

Several things surprised me as I read about the history of snacks in Canada. For example, Canada has a great many grants available to businesses that aid in building or expanding fledgling businesses. Covered Bridge Chips traces its routes back to 2004 when three members of the Albright family decided to form the Carleton County Spud Distributors to sell their own, and others, chips. The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency provided $528,000 in repayable funding for plant construction and another $77,150 for marketing and bus tour operations. Another expansion was supported by both federal and provincial government funding totally $340,000. Perhaps, as an American, I’m more surprised by the transparency of these transactions.

Also, whether a product is made entirely in Canada or had its roots in America, if the public embraced a product as Canadian, it was seen that way. Old Dutch chips are synonymous with Canada but they started in Minneapolis. Similarly, Cheezies was originally part of a snack food company in Chicago. But both snacks have been embraced as wholly “Canadian” through advertisement, local ties, and a sense of corporate humility. My obsession with this country grows. Unlike in whole great swaths of my country, where you aren’t local until the fifth generation no matter your dedication to the town, the idea that Canada will just decide that you’ve earned the label, “Canadian,” is intriguing to me.

One thing all the snack companies are not humble about is the quality of their products. Whether they be chips or chocolate, the companies actively fight against the label of “junk” food and the pervasive myth that these type of foods are inherently evil and across the board, unhealthy. Old Dutch potato chips have been manufactured for over eighty years using local potatoes and local canola oil and the company credits these simple ingredients and the boutique process used to cook the chips as the reason Old Dutch chips are the healthiest version of the snack possible. Similarly, Cheezies production has been virtually unchanged since 1948 and its product is proudly made from local sources with no preservatives.

Cheezies also uses corporate mythology to align itself with Canadian culture. The plant is only open from Monday through Friday so that families can spend time together on the weekends. Also, the company is reluctant to advertise, they have no Facebook or Twitter account.

Cheezies corporation boasts that, “unlike Jelly Belly in California who have turned their factory into a carnival of color and celebration, the Hawkins Cheezies factory in Belleville is just a factory. Very Canadian.”

Meanwhile, Ganong, the sole remaining Canadian chocolate company, takes credit for the heart shaped Valentine’s box and proudly hosts a chocolate festival every year. I can tell you, I’ve added this festival to my travel calendar because I am dying to meet “The Great Chocolate Mousse and his lovely wife Tiffany,” the mascots that preside over the festival in St. Stephens. And, even with their bragging, festivals, and a chocolate museum, Ganong has used the romance of chocolate and its devotion to the community to instill the pride of Canada in its success and survival.

“Everyone needs some pleasure and enjoyment in their lives, and that no one deserves our moral judgment.”

The journey through these companies inception, survival, and continued existence was wrought with disaster, war, unionization, and more fires than I could track. But, the biggest threat to all of these companies is the current ideology of the wholesome food movement. The author makes fantastic arguments that this manifesto is relevant mostly to the privileged healthy and has me questioning some of my beliefs regarding snack consumption. The balanced attitude of one individual interviewed, Grant Wichenko, just keeps coming back to me.

“…I grew up knowing that snack foods had a place. So, thankfully, I was able to bring that forward to my kinds. You don’t eat this because you are hungry; you eat it because it’s a treat.”

My obsession with all things Canadian brought this fascinating book into my life and now I know I need to travel back to Canada just so I can try all the local favorite snack foods.


Tell me, please!

What’s your favorite snack?