Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “non-fiction”

CommanderStrikeher’s #CBR4 Review #54: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

 *Audiobook Review*

Last book of the year.  I never thought I would make it to 52, let alone 54!

This book should only be available in audio format.  It is read by the author, and nobody gets the sarcastic asshole inflections of Anthony Bourdain better than himself.  Kitchen Confidential is the story of how Anthony Bourdain first fell in love with food.  When he was young, his parents took he and his brother on a trip around France, and he discovered he enjoyed food while on the Queen Mary.  Kitchen Confidential takes you through his start working in dive restaurants, going through culinary school, and the string of restaurants he has worked at since.

This was a fairly entertaining book.  I never worked in a restaurant, but this book does take me back to my time working at the concession stand at the movie theatre.  The frantic pace, the never-ending line of orders, the swearing and dirty jokes.  I loved every second of it.  If you have ever worked in a restaurant, or heaven forbid, have the crazy dream to own a restaurant, you should read this book.  Anthony Bourdain will tell you why you should NEVER buy a restaurant.

4/5 Stars

Mrs Smith Reads The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, #CBR4 Review #26

Le Déjeuner des Canotiers by Pierre-August Renoir (Charles Ephrussi is the gentleman in the background wearing a top hat, with his back to the viewer.)

Le Déjeuner des Canotiers by Pierre-August Renoir
(Charles Ephrussi is the gentleman in the background wearing a top hat, with his back to the viewer.)

Another Half Cannonball… Just under the wire!

Author Edmund de Waal is a London-based ceramicist descended from the Ephrussi family, a dynasty of secular Jews who dominated the grain and banking markets in Odessa, Paris and Vienna in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When his great-uncle Iggie Ephrussi passed away, de Waal inherited a collection of Japanese Netsuke that had been passed down for five generations. In The Hare with the Amber Eyes, de Waal takes readers on a journey with these 264 immaculately carved miniature artworks, originally purchased as a group lot by Charles Ephrussi in Paris, in the 1870s.

The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

Sophia’s #CBR4 Review #29: Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario

“I think it’s like the Bible says. People will move around. But not find peace.”
Enrique's Journey
All right. This is the last book from 2012. I’m halfway done with Moby Dick and almost done with another, but those are just going to have to wait until next year. Enrique’s Journey (2006) by Sonia Nazario was a book chosen for the “Denver Reads” program. The program chooses one book per year and then sponsors a bunch of discussions and lectures surrounding it.  I’m a little behind in finally picking it up, but I’m glad I read it. In the past, this reading program has generally leaned towards fiction, but Enrique’s Journey is non-fiction, the true story of his life and thousands of other migrants.

Enrique is a 17-year-old boy from Honduras who decides to find his mother in the U.S., twelve years after she left him with relatives, in order to find work. Like thousands of other children left without one or both parents, Enrique takes the only path available to him up North. He jumps on the trains, traveling thousands of miles through incredibly treacherous obstacles in order to be reunited with his mom. My only previous knowledge of this large migration of kids came from the fascinating and disturbing documentary film, Which Way Home, which I would also highly recommend. Having seen the visuals of what actually goes on helped bring this book to life for me.

Read the rest of my review here.

Sophia’s #CBR4 Review #28: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

When someone posted some interesting quotes on Facebook from Quiet: The Power of IQuietntroverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012) by Susan Cain, I developed a sudden interest in my natural personality type. I went looking for Quiet but the library was a little slow in its purchases. Instead I found, The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen, which I read earlier this year. I enjoyed both books for different reasons. The Introvert Advantage went into a little more detail about how the brains of introverts and extroverts function differently on a cellular level, which was fascinating. On the other hand, I appreciated how Cain did not turn Quiet into a cheering section for how much better introverts are than extroverts or a rah-rah self-help book. Instead she focused on the relative strengths and weaknesses of both personality types and how they work together to influence and interact in the world around us.

Read the rest of the review here.

Goddess of Apathy’s #CBR4 Review #13: My Cross to Bear, by Gregg Allman

04book"My Cross to Bear" by Gregg Allman

I am a Southern girl, born and raised in Georgia. If you are like me, and have that distinction, there are many singers and bands that are Southern and Georgian. The Allman Brothers Band is one of those bands and I have been a fan as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is when Gregg Allman married Cher, their picture on the cover of People magazine. Then there is the time in history when we were learning about the blues, and my teacher played “Statesboro Blues” on her guitar on front of the whole class. Then she asked each of us to write our own blues song to the same tune of that iconic melody.  I’m pretty sure I have been in love with Gregg Allman since I was that little girl. His beautiful blonde hair, soulful voice and that hint of danger has long intrigued me, even as I have grown up and he’s grown older. I have seen the Allman Brothers Band in concert many times, and had the pleasure of seeing Gregg Allman & Friends on a couple of occasions. I’ve visited his brother Duane’s and their friend and band mate Berry Oakley’s graves at Rose Hill Cemetery.  I’ve made a trek to the Big House, in Macon, the old home of the Brothers, now a museum. So of course, it was my duty and pleasure to read his autobiography, even though he might tell me secrets that might make me question my blind adoration after all these years.


I pre-ordered the book as soon as I could from Amazon. I was looking forward to reading Gregg’s life story. When the book finally arrived, I was in the middle of reading another book for Cannonball Read 4, and my husband took it upon himself to crack the spine of My Cross to Bear. The entire time he read, he kept telling me, “You aren’t going to like this.” Or he’d mutter, “This is the worst book I’ve ever read.” He was serious about his opinions. He told me the writing was terrible and was ridiculously paced. He stated Gregg’s narrative voice was like that of an old, rambling man, going from topic to topic. I insisted I had to read it for myself, no matter how bad the storytelling was; no matter how circuitous the narrative. No matter how sad and disappointed I might be learning the truth behind the soulful music I’d listened to all my life, I was still committed to knowing all I could.


I do give my husband credit for his description of Gregg’s voice in the book. I am unsure of how much he actually “wrote” of this autobiography, with Alan Light.  I know he wrote a multitude of beautiful songs about heartbreak, longing, and love, but we aren’t all authors. The book reads like a long conversation, and Gregg meanders through each story in his life, like a lazy river, sometimes cool and refreshing, other times, lazy and hazy as it wanders around the bend. I imagined Gregg telling me the story of his life as he sits on an cracked and weathered porch, his languid voice lulling me into the time machine that takes us back to when he was a child, growing up in Tennessee and then in Florida. He tells me of being packed away to military school at age eight. But, as he tells me about those early years, anecdotes about the Sear’s guitar for $21.95 or the foot shooting party, sometimes, he suddenly changes the subject, discussing an event that happened just fifteen years ago. I really had to make sure I was paying attention, or else I would get lost in the shuffle of his life.


Gregg does honestly reveal all his missteps in love and drugs, but at the heart of this story, for me, was the deep love he had for his brother Duane and for writing and making music. Duane was Gregg’s tormentor, but Gregg seems to have the deepest love and affection for Duane, even after all these years since Duane’s tragic death in 1971. The music seems to come easy to Gregg. He doesn’t give any magical clues as to how he writes a song, admitting at one point, it might sound like he’s giving you a formula, but “it’s never that simple.” He admitted  the song “Midnight Rider” is the one song he is most proud of in his career.


I am sure some readers will be fascinated by all the lovers, baby mamas, six wives, five children, alcohol, and the never ending supply and demand of drugs from pot, to coke, to heroin. I admit I was fascinated by his relationship with Cher. She was such an icon of the 70s and I remember watching Sonny and Cher and thinking how unique she was, an inspiration to all those girls out there, like I was, who weren’t considered traditional looking. I still remember signing with heartfelt triumph the song, “Half-Breed” at the top of my little girl lungs! There is more to the story than just the salacious parts. Sure, Gregg loves women; he’s still just as enamored with them after all this time. Thankfully, his love of drugs and alcohol is under control and even with a liver transplant, he is trying to live a more healthy lifestyle these days.


In addition to the life story that he tells, the book includes posters from gigs for the Allman Brothers, and photographs and other memorabilia to accompany the different phases in Gregg’s life and career. It was like flipping through old photo albums. I had time to peruse the pictures, looking at all the details of Gregg’s adventures. It felt as if I knew him better after reading his story. He’s hardly perfect by any means, but I felt privileged to get to know him just a little better and understand his music all the more. I wouldn’t recommend reading this book to just anyone. You would at least require love and affection for his music first, and then need the desire to spend a little time with an old man as he reflects on a journey, with pride and curiosity, at just how far he’s come and just how lucky and talented he really is.

Funkyfacecat’s #CBR4 Review #29: Bodies in Motion and at Rest by Thomas Lynch

Thomas Lynch is an undertaker/poet in a small town in America, and seems to be very good at both his jobs. In these he ponders, with humour and sadness, the often-misunderstood business of burial and its large-scale takeover by faceless corporations, Western notions of death and ritual, and the ties that make up homes and communities. He also discusses how much he hates his son’s cat and what he does when he doesn’t like poets.

Lynch is a talented story-teller, even making statistics and business information interesting, but it is his musings on the Big Questions, fate and fear and life and death that make this book worth reading. It isn’t uplifting in the conventional sense, there’s far too much realism and occasional bitterness, but it’s an enriching read that exudes camaraderie, leaving you feeling as if you’ve had a great and rambling conversation with a very intelligent and funny person down at the pub (although Lynch quit drinking-alcoholism in his life and family are the subject of one essay).

“We must be steady in our wounds, loyal to our doom, and patient in the machinery of heaven.”

Funkyfacecat’s #CBR4 Review #25: These Wonderful Rumours by May Smith

“These Wonderful Rumours” refers to the ephemeral scuttlebutt of wartime: stories of parachuting nuns, invasions on bicycles, humble fishmongers as fifth columnists and so on. May Smith’s diaries 1939-1945 regards these with amused scepticism, but their author does find much to worry about with rationing, evacuees, air raids, and friends and relatives in the army. Smith worked as a primary school teacher in the English Midlands during the war, lived with her parents, and managed to lead an active social life despite the war and extra duties, which involved fending off the attentions of at least two suitors, lectures on English Literature and Modern History, and a great deal of shopping and tennis.

Her diaries, modelled on E.M. Delafield’s The Provincial Lady (also published by Virago and an absolute delight) are engaging, often droll and occasionally irritating. Smith’s romantic life is particularly amusing; her entries on Poor Old Dougie or Freddie who is variously Dear and Faithless are a precursor to Bridget Jones in her attempts to figure out her emotions and decipher the codes of courtship:

“Wednesday, December 20th 1939: Received my post at dinnertime – cards and a large carrier bag containing the Promised Bird from Doug – though it was addressed to Mother. Very thrilled – a proper ‘Dougie’ touch. He doesn’t say it with flowers, oh no! Dougie has to shower birds. Howbeit, it looks very succulent, and I like poultry.”

There is a lot about hats and coats and dresses, and the details of life during the Blitz and observations on politics and the progress of the War are interesting and insightful. While the pace slightly drags towards the end of the volume, well, so did the war, highlighting how constant anxiety and sometime panic can become routine.

“Wednesday, July 10th 1940: Torrents of rain fell all day long. Rumbles of thunder also sounded – very ominously – this afternoon, whereat I received a frenzied note from Miss H, asking Was it Thunder or Bombs?’ Replied in consolatory vein, and shortly afterwards lightning appeared, confirming my diagnosis.”

The diaries serve as a view into how ordinary people outside London (often the focus of Blitz narratives) perceived the war, and how important community spirit and snatching as many good times as possible were. I enjoyed them very much; they make a good read with a cup of tea and a cosy window seat.

loopyker’s #CBR4 Review #13: True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life by Kevin Sorbo

True Strength coverOK, I admit that I kind of had a crush on Kevin Sorbo during his Hercules: The Legendary Journeys days. I’ve always had a weakness for tall guys with long hair – but, he also seemed like a decent guy when giving interviews. I hadn’t really thought about him in years, but was extremely disappointed to find out recently that he is now into some of the more extreme Christian fundamentalist propaganda. It didn’t seem to fit with his past public image, so I was curious. In looking him up, I discovered that he had a serious illness and had written an autobiographical book about it. “Aha!”, I thought. “That might explain the extreme religious views.”

I was pleased to discover that my online library had the audiobook of  True Strength, narrated by Kevin himself and his wife, Sam Sorbo. I hoped to find an explanation for this fundamentalist approach in this book. I was disappointed in that respect, but really enjoyed and connected with the book in other ways.

We all know we are mortal, but many of us like to forget about that at different times in our lives. Kevin Sorbo probably wasn’t thinking of it too much when he was in peak physical condition and playing the half-god, Hercules on one of the highest rated syndicated television shows in the world in the 1990’s. But, he was was forced to confront that in a sudden, terrifying way. Unknown to all but his closest family, friends and co-workers, at this peak time, Kevin suffered three strokes after an aneurysm in his shoulder caused clots to travel through his body. These resulted not only in damage to his arm, but both long lasting and permanent symptoms such as partial blindness, dizziness, weakness, headaches and ringing in his ears just for starters.

This struck while on hiatus from Hercules, between the 4th and 5th seasons, just after the release of Kull the Conqueror (1997). It was at a crucial point, both in his career and for the continuation of Hercules where a lot of other people depended on Kevin as the star to keep the show going.  Hercules hadn’t yet reached that magic 100 episode number for the best syndication deals. But fortunately, everyone had a little time to figure things out before filming began again – and it took a lot of creative solutions.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Hercules, but I still can remember when the writing suddenly changed with Kevin missing in strange ways – like one episode where he had been turned into a pig or was missing altogether. At the time, I was annoyed at the writing. Now, after reading True Strength, I’m amazed they pulled off hiding Kevin’s recovery and disability so well! I found it really interesting to hear about all the little tricks they did to make it look like he was there more than he was and what they used to hide his weakness. He went from doing many of his own stunts to needing a body double to even lift a sword for awhile. He was never able to return to doing even many of the previously easy-to-him stunts.

Besides relating to True Strength as a fan of Hercules and then Andromeda, I very much connected with the personal struggle Kevin went through with his sudden disability…

Read the rest of my review at Loopy Ker’s Life

Miss Kate’s review #5

Miss Kate’s review #5

In The Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson

 

I’ve been reading furiously (furiously, I tell you!) this year, but between school, work, and motherhood, sitting down and actually writing reviews has proven pretty difficult. So over the next few days, I’ll be posting much more often in an effort to complete this year’s Cannonball Read!

In the Garden of Beasts is the true story of the American ambassador to Berlin during Hitler’s rise to power. William E. Dodd is a college professor at the University of Chicago. A quiet, Jeffersonian Democrat (and friend to Woodrow Wilson), his greatest wish is to finish his multi-volume history of the Old South. Plucked from his post, he moves his family: wife, son Bill and daughter Martha – to Berlin in the spring of 1933.

This is as much Martha’s story as it is Dodd’s. A wild young woman fleeing a bad marriage, she has literary aspirations but not much focus. She takes to the glittering Nazi social scene, and embarks on an energetic series of affairs. Her lovers are both high-ranking Nazis and Communist agents, and her behavior threatens Dodd’s standing.

Dodd himself is an outsider to the diplomatic corps. Dubbed the “Pretty Good Club”, they consist mostly of wealthy Ivy League graduates. Dodd is determined to live frugally, and even drives his own American-made car around town. This difference, and his unwillingness to “play along”, will make his job much harder in the years to come. The US government at this time is more concerned with Germany’s debt (and acquiring repayment) than with any human rights violations. Dodd is sent to Berlin with this goal in mind. As he and his family become witnesses to Hitler’s brutal rise and consolidation of power, his focus changes. Convincing Washington to act, however, proves difficult.

In the Garden of Beasts is an interesting, frustrating and ultimately sad read. Interesting, because Larson has the ability to put the reader right there in the action. Frustrating, because we can’t help but become angry at the inaction of the diplomatic community. Sad, of course, because we know what comes after. As Edmund Burke famously said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

I recommend this book.

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #34: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta_Lacks_(1920-1951)Imagine your mother. I mean, really think about her. The color of her hair, her eyes, the sound of her laugh, what she looks like when she’s angry. And not just a little angry, but REALLY REALLY angry, like, you-stole-her-car-and-filled-it-with-bees-and-drove-it-into-a-lake angry. What makes her laugh? Is it your dad? You? Maybe it’s fart jokes because WHO DOESN’T LOVE A GOOD FART JOKE.

Maybe, for whatever reason, you can’t picture her. Maybe you never knew your mother, maybe you WISH you didn’t know your mother, I don’t know, but if you can’t see your mother, hear her laugh, smell her perfume, INSERT MORE CLICHES HERE, you have something in common with Deborah Lacks, someone you’ll grow to care about when (not if, WHEN…there is no if) you read this book.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the story of a poor, black woman who died in the 50s, just riddled with cancer, and the cells she unknowingly donated to science during her treatment. Henrietta Lacks went to Johns Hopkins for cancer treatment, like so many did, suffering a great deal in the process (seriously, think of how terrible cancer treatment is today and then multiply that by 1000), but her donation to science led to the polio vaccine and a better understanding of the human body.

These cells, called HeLa cells, were taken from Henrietta without consent, and grew and grew and grew and are now present in labs all over the world. It would be years before Henrietta’s children would know anything about this, years before they would know a piece of their mother was still living. Deborah Lacks, who was only a toddler when her mother died, would spearhead this journey, with the help of the book’s author, Rebecca Skloot. Skloot spends countless hours with the Lacks family, compiling interviews, medical history, and family lore, to weave together the story of Henrietta Lacks, who she was, how she lived and died, and how HeLa cells came to be one of science’s most important assets.

It’s been a long time since my high school biology classes, but the way the science is written in this book is so engaging. Skloot presents everything in a matter-of-fact manner, but there’s a tinge of humanity present in every word. After all, HeLa cells may be commonplace in every biology textbook, every lab, every scientist’s brain, but Henrietta Lacks was a human being, first and foremost. She was someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, and someone’s mother. She was SOMEONE, not just cells on a slide.

I was surprised at how strongly this book affected me. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I finished it. I can’t imagine having grown up not knowing my mother at all, let alone later discovering that some scientist had taken a piece of her and that piece, that living piece of her, was still out there somewhere. There’s a moment, late in the book, when Deborah and her younger brother are invited to Johns Hopkins to look at HeLa cells under a microscope, and Deborah holds a vial of her mother’s cells in her hands, cupping them gently, trying to warm them, and, realizing that this was the closest she’d been to her mother since she was a baby, I had to put the book down for a moment to catch my breath.

This is a story of questionable medical practices, scientific achievement, and how race and consent placed a significant role in both, but mostly, it’s the story of one woman’s quest to know, really know, the mother she’d been robbed of so many years before. The science will hook you, but the humanity will keep you reading.

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