The four scribbling Ephron sisters-raised in the film industry-- are probably as close a match to the UK's Mitford sisters as we are likely to get. (We still admire the autobiographical comic novels of Nancy Mitford, the progressive activism of Jessica, and the fantastical life of "Debo," who became Duchess of Devonshire- the fascist sister Diana and Hitler groupie Unity not so much.) Novelist Delia is the second oldest Ephron sister, and the screenplay collaborator of her late sister Nora. This memoir covers several years that saw her sister die from a rare form of leukemia, her husband die, and herself diagnosed and treated for the same leukemia. Oh, and widowed, she falls in love with someone she dated a couple times as a young woman, dates she couldn't even remember! Delia meticulously and fearlessly details her time as a grieving wife, and as a patient who wonders if the cure is worse. But overall, this is an optimistic book highlighting medical advances, overwhelming kindness, and love.
I only read one or two of the "Little House" books growing up (more of an Alcott fan) and didn't own a television when Melissa Gilbert's Laura Ingalls Wilder character debuted on "Little House on the Prairie." But I remember when Melissa Gilbert became President of the Screen Actors Guild: there were very few women presidents at the time...anywhere. Since then, books and a documentary have increased my interest in Ingalls and her very emancipated daughter Rose Wilder Lane. For me, and I bet many others, Gilbert's second half might be even more interesting than her days as a child star. For a few years, Gilbert and her husband, actor/director Timothy Busfield, lived just north of Ann Arbor ("Our friend Jeff Daniels, another Michigander , said to me, "Listen if you get bored, go to Ann Arbor. They think they're Paris.") This book covers that experience, her short run for political office in Michigan, and their move to a fixer upper in the Catskills in late 2019. Of course it becomes a pandemic journal, as they wait out the worst, and turn their cottage into a little farm (cue the chickens). Gilbert is a very accomplished writer...and there are recipes!
Fly Girl covers the years from the tail (puns intentional) end of the "golden era" of commercial airline flight-if you had the money-to the beginning of the impacts of deregulation, airport hubs, and worker concessions. Although way more Americans fly now on way more flights, the reduction in the passenger cost from deregulation does not come without concessions from workers whose salaries and perks are far lower decades later. And now that four airlines control 90% of flights, we are apt to see fares rise. Since Ann Hood is very close to my age, this fascinating memoir about her years as a flight attendant for TWA and a short-lived discount airline, is particularly interesting to me. My first memory of flying was on a United flight from Cleveland in the early 60s that actually had a lounge for first class passenger seating on take off. (I never saw that again.) Later on I worked a hotel front desk checking in flight crews for the late lamented Sabena, and the less lamented Northwest "Orient." The Sabena male pilots were always very jolly and brought us chocolates. The Northwest female flight attendants were unsmiling and tired looking. Hood makes clear why that was.
I've been an avid mystery reader in the past, who hasn't really found a lot that I wanted to finish reading recently. Carolina Moonset filled the bill. Beaufort (one of those wonderful mispronounced place names like Carmel, Indiana and Saline and Milan, Michigan) is the setting, and I love mysteries about places that I have yet to visit. It's between the coastal tourist meccas of Charleston and Savannah, with a legacy of shady development and racial injustice without reparations. Joey Green returns home to give respite to his overworked mom, who is caring for Joey's dad, a dying family doctor and a community icon, whose legacy Joey knows he will never live up to. His dad remembers the past better than what transpired an hour ago, and spills some uncomfortable and possibly dangerous secrets to Joey, which need to be connected. The entire (too brief) time that I spent reading this book, I could see the movie in my head.
I think Grant Ginder deserves to be better known than he is. Let's Not Do That Again is my third Ginder novel, and if this one is not quite the funniest of them (hard to be truly hilarious with a French fascist as a lead character), it does manage to hit all of his strengths. So we have alienated siblings, a strong but not perfect mother (named Nancy!) who is running for Senator, and city backdrops: this time it is New York and Paris.The ending is a mixture of farce, romance, and comic catharsis, heavily dosed with reckoning.
These people are horrible. All the deadly sins are in full display until Queen Victoria, not to mention the drawn and quartering, disemboweling, and beheading, (which is a kinder, gentler death by comparison). Covering the Tudors (Henry the VIII) up through the Windsors, you will come to appreciate--if you did not--the separation of church and state, royalty and ruling power, and the abolition of royal primogeniture. Despite being a wonderfully lurid read, Farquhar draws from many books and first person historical sources. Oh those letters! It seems the royals have always either hated their heirs or betrayed them. Helpful family trees not only show how far the stretch to continue justifying the royal connection, but also the need for new royal first names. Let's just say the royal pups George and Charlotte may not want to look too far up that tree.
Road trips where we stayed in cinder block motels with tiny soaps, are some of my fondest memories of growing up. But even before that bit about her heroine's childhood, The Suite Spot's author hooked me with her setting of a small brewery/hotel set on a (real) island in Lake Erie. After losing her job at a luxury hotel in Miami, single mom Rachel takes her toddler daughter and not much else to Kelley's Island to become manager of a not yet built vacation cabin complex. Both the complex's construction and its depressed owner are stalled and in need of some direction. This was an entertaining and competently written modern romance, for those needing an evening free from doom scrolling.
Author Maloney has spent a lot of time in hospitals, some of it working in various low paid tech jobs, and some of it dealing with her own variously diagnosed mental health issues. Part way through the Cost of LIving, the author inventories the list of drugs that she has taken or is taking now. The list includes over twenty brand name antidepressants and mood stabilizers, many of them really only FDA approved for things like epilepsy, but usually prescribed off label for depression and other psychiatric disorders. It's not clear if any of these have helped her, or just left her with crushing medical debt. This is a rare peek behind closed hospital and clinic doors, where "safer"-safer than what?-- has launched a thousand pharma marketing campaigns and sunk American healthcare.
I first saw the Sackler name on visits to family members that lived near the Smithsonian. It was the newer Arthur M. Sackler building that housed Asian Art. I never gave a thought to who Arthur M. Sackler was, or how he made his money. Now we know. The author begins with the "Horatio Alger" story of Arthur, who saw early the promise of psychotropic drugs (at least compared to mental asylums and lobotomies). He pretty much invented pharmaceutical advertising and advertorials, and then compromised the ethics of the FDA, thousands of doctors, and of course officeholders, with free lunches, honorariums, and job promises. But Arthur was just the warm-up act. His younger brothers Mortimer and Raymond, and his nephew Richard, took it to the next level. Deceptive advertising convinced physicians who should have known better, that their privately owned company Purdue's newest opioid formulation, Oxycontin, did not cause addiction.You may think you know the rest of the story, but Keefe has so much history well told and additional research, that Empire of Pain is both riveting and mind-blowing. This time the "barbarians" are not at the gate-they're behind it. As the family patriarch Isaac used to tell his sons "if you lose a fortune you can always earn another, but if you lose your good name, you can never recover it."
"you think she is essentially so vicious , or so feeble-minded, that she cannot withstand temptation,-and though she may be pure and innocent as long as she is kept in ignorance and restraint, yet, being destitute of real virtue, to teach her how to sin, is at once to make her a sinner, and the greater her knowledge, the wider her liberty, the deeper will be her depravity." - Helen "Graham" in "The Tenant"
I almost spit out my coffee reading this "Victorian" passage from the "lesser" Bronte sisters' "lesser" book. "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" has vaulted ahead of "Wuthering Heights" for me. Although I retain great fondness for "Jane Eyre," that is now dampened by the knowledge that Charlotte herself suppressed the republication of this brilliant book, because it was not reflective of Charlotte's view of Anne's maidenly experience. (Bramwell, anyone?) In "Tenant," we get two first person stories: the journal of an abused woman who flees her alcoholic husband to support herself and her son as an artist, and the letters of her suitor. I read it in the beautiful "Everyman's" edition (love the ribbon marker!) because it's still a man's world.
Emma makes exquisite copies for museums and uber rich owners of priceless paintings during the day. She suffers from night terrors that sap her energy to do more with her life. She’s a painter of fakes, who is living with impostor syndrome, and questioning her talent as a painter of her own compositions, and her worth as a daughter, friend, and lover. But then she lands what she thinks is her dream job at a private gallery. The book's setting is a made for Instagram world of galleries and art exhibitions, art auctions, and crazy rich parties. It's also one of drug-trafficking, money laundering, and tax fraud. The attention to detail is what makes “Fake” such an enjoyably immersive look at the shadier side of art commerce.
I've always been drawn to books of short biographical profiles, and reading this gem was a delight. Most of the women profiled in this book of 20th century cookbook authors and restaurateurs have died. Many of their cookbooks are no longer in print and little video remains (unlike today's crop of food writers and authors). But their contributions to our immigrant story, and their influence on how we eat live on. This is a revisionary look at America's food revolution in the second half of the 20th century, that goes beyond Beard, Child, and Claiborne to our pan cuisine present.
It's a shame so many of Mel Brooks's show biz friends have passed on, because they would truly have loved this tribute to their talented lives and enduring friendship. Brooks' memoir would better have been titled "All About Me and My Friends," but of course not as funny. His career spanned organizing shows for soldiers demobbing after World War II (he was only 20!) doing comedy routines for resorts in the Catskills, writing for Sid Caesar's television show in the 50s, the 2000 year old man skits and albums, developing "Get Smart," writing, directing, producing and acting in a string of popular movies, and then running his own movie studio and conquering Broadway. If you are looking for a light-hearted book reflecting the wisdom of a lifetime of optimism, you could not do better.
I'm an unlikely person to read Let Them Lead, which is why I can heartily recommend it.This book is about three magical years when the author coached Ann Arbor's Huron High School's terrible hockey team, which had won no games the year before he took over--and was too cool to care. I went to four high schools as my parents relocated, and the worst time I spent was at Huron. I haven't watched more than a handful of hockey games since the 1980 "Miracle on Ice," and although I was a subscriber to the local newspaper, I never read their local sports section. And I thought I hated business books with lots of sports metaphors, but I still really enjoyed reading this. I loved Bacon's stories about coaching, I came to love his players, and I teared up a few times. I found inspiration in the leadership advice he quoted, such as "Former Michigan athletic director Don Canham once told me,"Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story." Aaron R., are you listening? And in Bacon's own: "If you go too long without beating your rival," I told the Ann Arbor News, "it becomes more than a game and you feel like you're fighting history." I know a football team that could heed this.
Although there have been many books published in the past few years on our American political circus, I can't think of another one that presents a verifiably truthful and detailed look by a major insider. It's also refreshing that Schiff is able to say in a few cases: I was wrong, I could have done this better, with hindsight it would have been better if. But something Schiff has not changed his mind on is the threat to our democracy that the new so-called Republican party has become. "Midnight" is elegantly written, impeccably organized (working moral compass included) and likely to be read for many years by political candidates, historians, and prosecutors. I urge everyone to read it.
Single queer female author gets arts stipend that comes with free house in the Detroit neighborhood of Banglatown. All she has to do is stay in the house for two years, and the house is hers to keep or sell. What could go wrong for her? Well for starters, her neighbors are distrustful of her lack of a husband, and her house turns out to be more of a fixer upper than advertised. Buried in the light-hearted "year in Provence" bits are some troubling realities about life in Detroit after they pull down all the old houses, and who really benefits from that. Since "Gentrified" was written about a period a few years before the pandemic, you want to know how the neighborhood children did with zoom classes, when the cable company won't even come to repair what is already in place. And most disturbing of all is the history of the foreclosed houses that do survive the wrecker's ball. Were their owners notified? Were they paying some of the highest rates in the country for services they never gott? Did they owe maybe tens of dollars and not thousands in taxes, when their houses were taken away? And did that happen to the prior owner of the author's house? Masterfully written, I want to go back and read some of the author's other books.
It seems that Oscar Wilde has been with me always. I grew up on my Mother's tale of her triumph as governess Miss Prism in an Ames High School production of "The Importance of Being Earnest." When I was in high school, I was given an assignment in world history class to do a multiple essay project on a topic of my choice, I chose English painting, and there was Wilde again, a prominent champion and influence in the English Aesthetic movement. Around the same time, I discovered at the library a haunting memoir "Son of Oscar Wilde." And in a later decade, a BBC series on Lillie Langtry (friend of Wilde) became a hit on “Masterpiece.” Wilde is the most quoted author since Shakespeare and many of his epigrams (often from his plays) seem to be self-referential (e.g. "I can resist everything except temptation"). Despite a life extravagantly lived, his accomplishments include Oxford’s annual Newdigate Prize for poetry, a celebrated lecture tour of America at age 27!, a still influential novel, essays, fairy tales, and of course that brilliant and brief stretch of play-writing, also unmatched since... It all ended with imprisonment, his prison letter "De Profundis," and exile and death at 46. Sturgis’s epic biography is now definitive,without losing a narrative populated by a hundred other famous artists, who still somehow remained in Wilde’s imposing shadow. Readingthis biography is a first-rate, even life-altering experience.
"We will press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities."
Those words from Biden's inauguration speech were not as memorable as his predecessor's "American Carnage" rant, and the more uplifting Amanda Gorman, so it's good that Woodward and Costa bring us back to the reality of where we are now. I cannot recommend this book enough. Although this volume of what is now a trilogy has no moment quite like those tapes ("I wanted to always play it down") there are many newsworthy reveals that will give you a larger understanding of Biden's presidency, Afghanistan, Joe Manchin, and January 6th.
Author Smarsh ("Heartland") has many important parallels in her life to Dolly Parton's: escaping a life of rural poverty and widespread illiteracy into success as a writer, and understanding that having her own children would get in the way. Dolly, of course, has famously given both books and presumably literacy to millions of other people's children through her Imagination Library. But her biggest gift may be her legacy of the 3,000 country songs that she has written, many celebrating the lives of poor women who make the best of it, or manage to escape. Smarsh ties the songs to Dolly's life and addresses the elephant in the room--Dolly's stage persona of tight clothes and big hair, etc-- and why it means more and less than her audience thinks it does. She also notes that country music radio airtime for women performers has shrunk to only ten percent in this decade, and how that may reflect on the 2016 election results. A woman who is abused is never more at risk from her abuser than when she escapes. The gains that women like Dolly have made over their lives and careers still represent a threat to at least some men who want to maintain control.
Our staff knows John Banville as a Man Booker prize winner and not as a mystery author. So after removing copies of "Snow" a few times to reshelve in mysteries, I got curious about it. After all, Michiganders know snow--what can an Irish author tell me? This is a classic police procedural set in the 1957 Irish republic, when the Catholic church held much more power over government offices than it does today. DI Strafford (NOT Stafford) is a protestant investigating a priest's gruesome death, a crime that no one else seems to want solved. Although the plot moves along quickly enough, it's the characters that are so ripe for a BBC series. The comparisons to Nabokov and James are deserved. And it turns out that Banville has been writing another series of police procedurals under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. Time to seek them out.
Part of me was afraid to read "While Justice Sleeps," since Stacey Abrams is on my very short list of people that I admire unequivocally. I shouldn't have worried. It's a clever legal/political/medical thriller whose plot points are no more outrageous than James Comey in Attorney General Ashcroft's hospital room, or the sordid sagas of Michael Flynn or Elizabeth Holmes, and the secret exit deal of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. And let's not mention a pandemic that continues to kill thousands, despite the availability of vaccines.There is not much that Abrams doesn't already know about writing popular fiction (having honed her craft writing romances under a nom de plume), or about politics and business. She was also able to lean on her siblings for expertise: they include doctors and a District Court Judge. I trust that her heroine Supreme Court clerk Avery Keene will be back in another book soon.
Palm Beach is the most recent novel by Mary Adkins, and I have eagerly read her other two, When You Read This and Privilege. Each has memorable, distinctive characters, a grounding in today's headlines, and a strong sense of place, whether it's an elite university or a wealthy winter retreat. What humor there is, is subtle, and what romance occurs is not paramount over an interesting narrative. In Palm Beach, a financially struggling young couple accepts an offer to work for an uber wealthy one (their mansion has swimming pools on each side to align with the sun's position). The young husband becomes the house manager and his wife agrees to co-write the other wife's autobiography. They will all have to reconcile with what happens when good people do a bad thing, and bad people do a good one.
This is former Michigan author McDivitt's third biography for children. The author was actually born in South Africa, and returned frequently as a girl to visit family, while seeing first hand the evils of apartheid. Illustrator Palmer is an award-winning artist, and there is a rare degree of cooperation between author and illustrator. For instance, McDivitt inspires Palmer to change one of his early sketches of Mandela in (his first) prison, by telling him that Mandela was initially allowed to only wear short pants (like boys, not men). With its meticulously crafted story, warm illustrations, and supplemental notes, A Plan for the People is a book that all ages can both enjoy and learn from.
Equal parts inspirational, aspirational, and humorous, "Stupid Things" features short personal essays covering things that women learn before men ("I Won't Pass Up a Chance to Pee-Even When I Don't Have To"); things that you will do in the future to your chagrin and that of your children ("I Won't Whine About How Much Things Cost"), and unexpected suggestions that go beyond "Swedish Death Cleaning" ("I Won't Let Anyone Else Write My Obituary"). I personally do not know anyone who would not benefit from the study of this book. Besides, it's funny.
Evangelical religion, domestic abuse, mental illness (including PTSD), and the subjugation of women. These are the threads that run through some of the most unforgettable American memoirs that I have read over the past ten years. I disliked "Hillbilly Elegy", as much as I loved this equally well written but more self aware perspective of growing up in a family with longstanding Appalachian roots. Pay attention to the author's last name. The book ends on a cliffhanger, suggesting that we will be hearing more from her, and more about her life where this story leaves off.
The first page of Henkin’s engrossing novel has our protagonist meeting her life partner in Ann Arbor, so of course I’m going to continue reading it. The additional scenes that took place in Brooklyn, Columbus, San Francisco, Ames, Iowa and DC made me feel like I was being stalked. These are all places where I have a close family connection, too. Okay, but there is another familiar story arc here, too: girl with promise throws her lot in with a “great man” and eventually comes to question whether she sacrificed too much of herself when she did. Not only is Pru’s professor husband Spence somewhat older than she is, he comes with personal baggage- a troubled young son, a needy ex-wife, and a severely disabled sister, all of whom need financial assistance. Henkin tells the back story of all of these people as well as the hired caretaker and her son, as they come together to take care of Spence, who develops early onset Alzheimer’s. I can speak from personal experience to say that this part of the novel is authentic and heartbreaking. But if you are inclined to pass over books that hit too close to home, do not. The author weaves his characters' stories into a web of acceptance, hope, and renewal that very much is what we need right now.
A short must read book on the U.S. pandemic response, that mentions very little about the prior President? How is that possible? In The Premonition, Lewis exposes an out of touch CDC, whose directors have been political appointees since Reagan, politicized state health departments, having varying degrees of power to enact health measures during a pandemic, and the very real lack of understanding of the public about how math works. (Lewis wrote about behavioral economics in his earlier book, The Undoing Project.) All of these worked with the Trump "comorbidity" to give us a government failure worthy of the Decline and Fall. As usual, Michael Lewis's emphasis is on the stories that have not been told, and finding the people to tell them. This includes a secret group of seven, whose advice gave the governors of states who heard about them (e.g. Ohio, Maryland) a leg up in their pandemic responses. One member, expanding on his daughter's high school science project, improved pandemic modelling to what has proved a shockingly accurate degree. And the heroine-a public health official in California, Charity Dean- has a backstory reminiscent of the book Educated.
I recently spent a half hour in the car talking about the different ways to dig up dahlia tubers (before or after frost), and store, and catalog them over winter. This conversation was made possible by a dahlia addict who grows over a 100 cultivars every year. Dahlias are making a comeback, but like peonies, they never really left Michigan. Although my source claims that most of the dahlia collectors he's met look like guys who ride tractors, it's refreshing to see a book authored by the female farmer of Floret's Farm fame (sorry). The huge color, petal, and size variation of dahlia blooms is definitely the best bargain for autumn bouquets. And unlike books that feature warmer climates, there is nothing in this book that you can't put in your own garden. If you want to see a lot of different dahlias in bloom, you can check out Dahlia Hill in Midland, Michigan or the Toledo Botanical Garden.
Chrissy Teigen's Mom Pepper has written a family cookbook that emphasizes the link between frugality and flexibility, that was a necessity growing up in a large working class family in Thailand. She later used this principle as a young mother newly moved to the states, whose own daughter wouldn't eat Thai food, and a Grandmother who couldn't always find Thai ingredients. Sloppy joes, spaghetti, and omelets get the Thai touch, but more authentic recipes also come with substitutes, such as green beans for green papaya. There are also recipes for homemade chile crisp, and a doctored up fish sauce that she keeps on her dining table. All of it sounds delicious. This is the perfect easy cookbook for someone who likes Thai food but hasn't tried to get the same flavors yet in their own cooking. There isn't one recipe in this book that I wouldn't eat.
"Adventures in Eden'' is a book with photographic tours of fifty European gardens-about forty percent of them from the UK and Ireland. I'm reading one profile a day, which should take me to spring in my own garden. There are a handful of reasons that this is one of the very best garden coffee table books that I've seen. First, the gardens chosen are relatively modern and modest gardens which, although not part of the RHS or National Trust, still have a habit of opening to the public, whether from private tours or open garden days. Several of these gardeners have lectured in Michigan (Peter Korn was just in Ann Arbor a few years ago). Second, Mullett is a long practicing garden designer from the US, aware of plant combinations, and plant palettes attractive to particularly American gardeners, which makes this book have greater appeal than just eye candy. Much of what she shows can be done at some level in our gardens. The garden art is often from repurposed objects or architectural salvage. Although the formal boxwood and yew topiary is not as much of our tradition, we know from American Pearl Fryar what can be done in one generation. The US hardiness range for these European gardens is 3-9, with particularly a lot of zone 6-8, so many of the gardeners' favored plants are perfectly hardy in your garden or microclimate. Mullett is also a good writer, and her essays add a lot to your understanding of each garden. But critical for this book, she is writing this from the perspective of a garden tour guide, with a great talent for both taking and selecting other people's photographs. The gardens are featured at all distances: the middle, plant or garden art close ups, borrowed landscapes. I don't think that I have ever seen a more well selected group of photographs for a collection of gardens. Don't take my word for it. The author has a facebook account "Garden Design with Carolyn Mullet" with over 1.6 million followers.
When I moved into my house during the Dark Ages (i.e. before YouTube) I planted a tomato next to the house, right under the eaves. My helpful new neighbor leaned over the fence and said she was sorry to see the forsythia go. Yes, I had just dug up a small forsythia, which I thought was a weed, to make a hole to plant the tomato plant in the shade. The kindness of new found gardening friends-like the helpful neighbor in “The Comic Book Guide to Growing Food”- has guided me ever since. Joseph Tychonievich has done a series of always interesting gardening books, including rock gardening and plant breeding. Unlike every other vegetable gardening book, and there are many, this tells you what you really need to know and nothing more. (He does provide a list of sources to go to for the more to know part.) It’s geared to success (grow Swiss chard, not spinach) and avoiding failure: don’t buy the biggest plant in the smallest pot, and don’t plant your heat-loving plants too soon. Confession, I rarely read graphic novels, but I felt an instant kinship with George the neighbor over the fence, and novice gardener Mia, who at least has the benefit of a smartphone. I want to go to Mia’s harvest party, too! Kudos to illustrator Liz Anna Kozik for making these gardeners seem real. The best part is this book can be read by or shared with readers of all ages.
Our bookstore customers favor books of well-reviewed fiction and modern poetry, so it surprised me to see so many enthusiastic customers of books by Adam Grant, who teaches organizational psychology at Wharton's business school. It turns out that Grant also has a University of Michigan connection, having received his graduate degrees in psychology here. Like those (Duhigg,Thaler, Harford) who have come before him, this book has wide appeal from psychology to sociology to politics. His book explores what Grant calls the joy of being wrong--"because it meant I'd learned something." He asks us not to be so much preachers, politicians, and prosecutors" in our beliefs and debates with others, but "scientists". Each chapter is often a case study or profile: a forecaster who competes in tournaments (who knew there was such a thing?); a woman who convinced African villages to be vaccinated; Mike Lazaridis, the founder of Blackberry, versus Steve Jobs, who both were wrong about the future of smartphones. One of the joys of the book is its clever selection of graphics, expanded footnotes, and cartoons like the one with this caption: "We'd now like to open the floor to shorter speeches disguised as questions." When I'm done reading a book, I give many of them away. I'm keeping this one.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call for price
This is by far the funniest book that I have read since the pandemic began. I admit to being attracted by the title of Gurwitch's memoir. It reminded me of my favorite Edward Gorey rhyme from "The Doubtful Guest": "It came seventeen years ago, and to this day, it has shown no intention of going away. " However, I was even more intrigued by the subtitle "Adventures in Downward Mobility." I am drawn to accounts of women falling through the holes of our slender social safety nets (see "Maid" and "Nomadland") and still getting up. And even more if they can laugh about it. Gurwitch is the friend that I wish I'd had to share my own humiliating times with, from parenthood to middle-age, when I thought that they were mine alone. As soon as I finished it, I went right out and got her earlier book, "You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up." I am a fan for life.
While we have understandably been focused this past year on racial justice, the pandemic, and the growing number of Americans who believe conspiracy theories promoted by actual fake journalists, social media, and enabling politicians, the human rights crisis in China has been exploding. China is continuing their purge of dissidents, ethnic minorities (e.g. Uighurs) and religions, particularly the Falun Gong, a modern mash-up of Taoist and Buddhist practices whose very devoted adherents/cultists are seen as a threat to the hegemony of the Communist Party. Author Pang retells and enlarges upon the story of Sun Yi, a Falun Gong follower, whose story is also told in a 2018 Canadian documentary, "Letter from Masanjia.( I saw "Letter" after reading "Made in China" and I highly recommend it. ) The last time the U.S. was able to track it, China had over 1400 re-education camps, which are really torture/brainwash camps that manufacture cheap Chinese goods for export. These are not the famous FoxConn factories, which make your iPhone. It is likely, however, that some small parts of your phones are produced by people that have been tortured in these camps, and are making their way into all of our phones through these factories, despite routine international inspections. Cheap "fast fashion" clothing, housewares, and holiday decorations are all documented as produced by tortured laborers: if the price of a product is too good to be true, no good has been exercised in the making of it. Pang took enormous risks posing as a businesswoman looking for product sourcing, and in the process learned about many of the ways the Chinese hide their practices: renaming companies that have been banned; software that produces fake time cards and other records; calling re-education camps detox centers. With the use of billions of cameras and advanced biometrics (which the pandemic has helped its population accept), it's increasingly grim for Chinese dissidents. As horrifying as all of that, the author also touches on medical organ tourism (see the 2014 documentary "Human Harvest") and China's fast turnaround for those who can pay top dollar. I will never again look at a "Made in China" tag without thinking about this book.
Perhaps particularly this winter, people who seem to have it all, and yet find themselves waking up okay one morning and unhappy the next, will identify with the story of Martha, child of eccentric artist parents, the sister to a supportive but take no prisoners mother of too many, and wife of martyr, auditioning for a doormat, Patrick. You won't always like Martha much, at least in the beginning, but you will recognize her. As someone who has read a lot of memoirs about mental illness, I was, however, somewhat distracted by trying to decipher: what is wrong with Martha? I'm not going to reveal that plot twist, but I can tell you that I had no trouble enjoying every turn of this first novel. Reading it will definitely provide some short term relief from a case of the pandemic blues.
An ironic result of our country's uniquely botched and embarrassing response to a global pandemic, is a renewed interest in what other countries are doing. We can't visit them, but in all cases their better outcomes have led many of us to ponder: how have these other countries managed to eclipse the United States, the country that gave the world both the Marshall Plan and Silicon Valley? Zakaria's heavily footnoted chapters address international cooperation, the United States' uniquely quid pro quo governance by congressional bills and tax codes written by lobbyists, the bipolar superpowers of China and the US, and how death may be the great equalizer, but COVID is the great unequalizer. Although I missed an index, this is a book that few could have written, and as good an introduction as one could wish for, to what our government could accomplish in the next decade, if it resumes a place of leadership in the world.
I usually try to read and review books for the store that no one else is reading or reviewing. That often means that when it comes to fiction, I am reading first novels that aren't getting as much buzz. But I have again broken my rule: failing to find anything that grabbed my attention in the piles of books that I have on my bedroom floor, I took up a copy of "Such a Fun Age." Although it has already been reviewed by a colleague, I can add my two cents that the "Reese's Book Club" sticker on its cover should not deter you or your Jonathan Franzen fans. Intricately and symmetrically plotted, our sympathies shift among the three lead characters: a Philly baby-sitter and transcriptionist trying to survive in the gig economy, her Instagram influencer/young mother boss, and the baby-sitter's techie boyfriend. It turns out everybody lies and all three can learn in this half farce, half serious disquisition on friends and childcare, race and money, and finding your way when you don’t know that you are lost.
When you consider that most people under 35, as well as a large share of people over 35, do not own their own homes, the need for a book that covers how to garden when you occupy a rental, seems obvious. Although there are hundreds of books on growing houseplants, this is the first one that I know of that goes beyond indoor plants, to the outside, and to both working with your landlord, and figuring out what makes fiscal sense for a property you may only occupy for a year or two. From balcony gardening to containers, small water features, dutch bulbs, and even lighting, the felicitously named Matthew Pottage shows that you don't have to wait to start gardening.
In 2006, William Alexander wrote a book about starting a vegetable garden, where he humorously tallies all of his expenses. That book was called The $64 Tomato, because that's what the author figured out he'd spent per tomato harvested the first year. (That's $90 a tomato in 2022's dollars). Roderick Floud, an economic historian and probable garden enthusiast, has used a much more sophisticated method to compare the true costs that went into building the magnificent National Trust gardens in England. Using the concept of average earnings, the 12 pound annual wage that a worker got in 1750, becomes $33,000 dollars today. This is a very original and highly detailed book that ventures from grand palaces and stately homes up to today's allotments and garden tourism. Along the way, Floud shows that gardening is the number one pastime of Britain, only rivaled by video games and the Internet.
If you are like me, you like seeing deer anywhere but your own garden. The only reliable way to keep a hungry deer out is an 8 foot high stockade fence, or two five foot fences placed a few feet apart, making it too hard for deer to jump over. Few homeowners have the space or the money, or even their HOA or city zoning code's approval. This book provides plans and examples from actual gardens, for designing a garden and garden beds that let you decide what to give over to deer and what to defend. Using plants less popular with deer (the prickly, the scented, the felted, and the bad-tasting) and allowing for well-established deer trails, you can learn to co-exist.
The Nichols Arboretum peony garden is 100 years old in 2022. Herbaceous peonies-the kind that die back completely after frost each year and are not seen again until the following May or June-have fallen in and out of favor over the decades. Right now they are having a moment due to better breeding (less flopping and more floral variety) and their popularity as a reliable and showy perennial that will outlive its owners. Although the Arboretum has the largest public collection of herbaceous peonies in the US, they have recently added Japanese peonies,which bloom earlier and are more expensive, but do not die back over winter. This is the second book on peonies from author and Ann Arbor garden walk fixture David Mitchell, whose co-editor is the former head of Matthaei.
There haven't been many new books on flower bulbs in recent years. Here's a secret: Michigan is a great place to plant outdoor bulbs. Most of the better known ones don't care if it snows in April after their foliage is up. If a rabbit bites off a tulip, it will probably flower again next year. Even a leaky sprinkler won't always cause a bulb to rot. This book will show you which bulbs will produce blooms year after year, which ones can be divided to produce more plants, and how to stack them all in a container for maximum impact.
There have been other books about the positive relationship of gardening to mental health, but probably none where the author was so qualified to write it. Sue Stuart-Smith is both a psychotherapist and the wife and co-gardener of Tom Stuart-Smith, frequent gold medalist at the annual Chelsea Flower Show. Well-Gardened made many best of booklists in the UK, including gardening book of the year in 2020.
Plant more trees. Especially oaks. To paraphrase Michael Pollan, Doug Tallamy has promoted that it's not enough to plant trees: you should plant the right trees for your region and situation, and in the US the very best tree is often a native oak. They support more varieties of insects, which in turn are the major source of food for most native birds and pollinators for plants. Tallamy is probably the most celebrated entomologist since E.O. Wilson.