Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#24: The Reading Promise (Alice Ozma)

I was thrilled to complete another book this week. The Reading Promise has been on my TBR for a while, but I just decided this week to purchase a digital copy and get to reading. The memoir wasn’t entirely what I expected, but I am very glad that I read it.

Alice’s father was an elementary school librarian. Together, they made a promise to spend 10 minutes each night for 100 consecutive days together – Dad would read aloud to Alice. When the young Alice and her dad reached their goal, Jim asked what the next goal should be. Alice quickly replied, “1000 days!”

Obviously, Jim was a little apprehensive about such a lofty goal. There had already been close calls when they weren’t certain that the reading would occur before midnight and The Streak would be broken. Still, Alice’s father knew better than to discourage a youngster. Together, they made the reading promise. The Streak would ultimately last for an amazing 3,218 nights, finally ending on the day that Alice moved into the residence hall at Yale University.

The Reading Promise is not about the books that the two read together. Instead, the memoir focuses on the relationship between father and daughter and how the act of reading together strengthened their bond. There are humorous moments such as reading by flashlight in the parking lot after an extremely late theater rehearsal. An unexpected illness makes the continuity of The Streak uncertain because Dad can barely speak above a whisper. There is the heartbreak of Alice at her mother’s departure from her home and the financial stress the single-income home faces. Above all, there is clearly love presented page after page.

If you are uncertain that reading aloud to children is important, read The Reading Promise. If you want to see what can happen when a parent connects with a child in a unique and personal way, read The Reading Promise. If you are passionate about the power of the written word, read The Reading Promise.

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#20: The Answer Is (Alex Trebek)

Driving back to Texas is always a perfect time to fit in an audio book and increase my annual reading tally. This trip, I opted for a significantly shorter book because I also wanted to catch up on some podcasts that had stacked up on me while in Arkansas. I have long been a fan of the quiz show Jeopardy! and thought that listening to The Answer Is….Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek (read by the author and Ken Jennings) would be a great option.

The book required about 4 hours of my listening time. Most of the book was read by Jennings with a few pivotal chapters read by Trebek himself. Chapters were very short and succinct for the most part. By his own admission in the opening, The Answer Is was not intended to be a memoir. It was simply a look back at some of Trebek’s fond memories and his experiences in television and broadcasting. Perhaps that is where things fell flat for this listener. I found myself hoping for more detail quite often; just as I became interested in a story or recollection, the memory ended and we moved on to the next. In the quiz show, I enjoy the constant shift of topics. In my reading, it leaves me wanting more.

When the book arrived at Trebek’s memories of Jeopardy! contestants, the increased continuity made the listening experience much more enjoyable. I began to sense the rhythm of the book hitting a comfortable pacing. Then Alex basically ended the book as though it was his farewell swan song to his fans and family. It was heart-breaking.

What’s my final take on the book? I still don’t really know. I enjoyed much of it. I feel as though I have a better understanding of Trebek’s life and career. I find myself still having questions. I struggle with the knowledge that this man that I have welcomed into my home for many hours over the years will not be with us much longer if the doctors’ prognosis is correct. So much uncertainty and so many questions have me wondering what The Answer Is.

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Catch Up: Books 14-16

It has been on my to-do list for nearly a month to write posts about my last two reads. Now that I finished a third book last night, I came to the realization that I simply had to put something down — no matter how short it is — and give the books some attention. I also want to make sure that I have a record of my thoughts before the reading experience is too far separated. I regret that these tremendous books are being grouped together in a single post, but I feel it is the only way to make sure that they are covered here on Reading for Me.

#14: Grit by Angela Duckworth

I think it was this outstanding book that was causing me the greatest difficulty in reviewing. It is a remarkable work that explores the importance of persistence, patience, and perseverance in the pursuit of success. Duckworth’s writing is very detailed and thorough, but she maintains a manner that is approachable by the careful reader. I especially enjoyed her application of concepts as they were found in the lives of athletes, businessmen, and musicians. There is nothing that I can say here that will adequately express my admiration for Grit other than this — I plan to review the book again in a future reading and strongly recommend that it be read by every student, parent, professor, and professional. I promise that you will be challenged and encouraged by each page.

#15: Naturally Tan by Tan France

While driving back to my native Arkansas a few weeks ago, I decided to devote my time to enjoying the audio book of Tan France’s memoir. What a delightful and insightful way to spend several hours in the car! As most of my followers will already be aware, Mr. France is one of the hosts of the current iteration of Netflix’s Queer Eye. (I have also read the memoirs of Karamo Brown and Jonathan Van Ness.  I look forward to reading similar books by Bobby Berk and Antoni Porowski when they *hopefully* appear.) I enjoyed Tan’s stories from the fashion industry and his journey to stardom. What I found most profound were his candid discussions about race, prejudice, and discrimination. Little did I know that Tan’s openness would resound so clearly in my ears as I watched the upheaval that our nation is currently facing. Simply an exquisite read.

#16: The Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

This second volume of the Clifton Chronicles was just as riveting and well-written as its predecessor. Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, the novel focuses largely on Harry Clifton’s time in the United States as a convict, serving time for a crime he did not commit. Emma, Harry’s jilted love, travels to America in hopes of finding out what happened to the man she adored when he left British soil. Many of the characters we came to enjoy during Only Time Will Tell reappear and continue their story line. In typical Archer fashion, the second novel of the series ends with a tremendous cliff hanger that leaves the reader wondering what will happen and longing to know how the circumstances will impact Harry, Emma, and Giles. Thankfully, the entire series is published and the next volume sits on my night stand, waiting to be read. The Clifton Chronicles are proving to be enthralling yet do not demand so much brain power that I feel as though I must labor through them. Perfect material for a summer vacation as we all try to recover from the recent pandemic’s strain upon our minds and emotions.

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#9: Home: A Memoir of My Early Years (Julie Andrews Edwards)

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Home on audio book while driving back to West Texas after Spring Break. There is something comforting about listening to Julie Andrews’ lilting voice amid all of the stress surrounding our nation’s health crisis at the moment. For a few hours, it was thrilling to seclude myself away inside the rental car and just listen to Mrs. Andrews’ impeccable diction and enthralling stories.

Home details Julie Andrews’ earliest years as well as the beginning of her career. Broadway credits during this time include productions of My Fair Lady and Camelot. As the memoir comes to its conclusion, Mrs. Andrews has committed to play the title role in the Disney film Mary Poppins and has just given birth to her first child, Emma. It is endearing to hear of her relationships with people such as Richard Rodgers, Burt Lancaster, and Carol Burnett.

While I loved the stories from backstage and Julie’s home life, what thrilled me beyond imagination was the constant discussion about vocal technique and vocal health. Mrs. Andrews speaks clearly about the importance of breath support and vowel placement. Her familiarity with the Polonaise from Mignon by Thomas (“Je suis Titania”) was very interesting to me since WBU Opera was slated to produce the opera this semester before COVID-19 entered the scene and forced the show’s cancellation.  I especially laughed aloud when she mentioned that she returned to the works of Handel throughout her career whenever experiencing issues with alignment. (How I detest playing Handel for singers!)

Whether you are a musician or a fan of the stage, there is something that you will enjoy and appreciate in Home. I look forward to reading the follow up to this memoir as well – Home Work. I highly recommend spending a few days with Julie Andrews. You will leave with a greater appreciate of the arts in general and an amazingly talented artist specifically.

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#6: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (Lori Gottlieb)

February has been a challenging month in my reading life. Here’s hoping that finally finishing my latest audio read is the beginning of a return to a somewhat normal reading routine.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed is a riveting book that connects the reader to Gottlieb and two of her clients: Julie and John. Julie is facing terminal cancer and struggling with the unfairness of dying as a very young woman who has just married the love of her life. John is a writer for a hit television series who thinks everyone he encounters is an absolute idiot. Through therapy, the real source of John’s problems will be discovered — a life filled with tragedy and unimaginable loss. While counseling her clients, Lori is facing her own struggles as she comes to terms with a relationship that has gone south and her fear that she will never find love. The memoir takes the reader on a roller coaster ride from the outlandishly funny to tearfulness and absolute sorrow.

Personally, this was not a good selection for me to read as an audiobook. The irregularity of my listening habits made it challenging to connect with the characters and follow the discoveries made in therapy. Additionally, since I have been dealing with personal emotional stresses while reading Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, I found it challenging to listen to the personal stories the book contained. If I had read this book at a different time in my own life, I think I would have had a very different response. For right now, though, it was just a little too much for me to handle. So I’m going to take a respite from audiobooks for a few weeks. I’m not spending enough time alone in the car at the moment (which is where I typically read these books) and I need to refresh my palate for a little while. Maybe You Should Talk hit a little too close to home for me this time around.

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#1: Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing and Hope (Karamo Brown)

Here it is….the first review of 2020! Not surprisingly, the first book that I completed this year was an audio book.

Karamo: My Story is the memoir of Karamo Brown, life coach on Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye. For those of us who grew up with MTV’s The Real World, we first met Karamo there. Things have definitely changed since our first encounter with the author all those years ago.

As I listened to the book, I was immediately struck by Karamo’s honesty and openness. He shares details about his childhood, his early relationship with organized religion, and his struggles with addiction that are startling in their frankness. Yet, it quickly becomes clear that Karamo is sharing these stories in order to help others learn from his experiences. I especially found his discussion of the intersection between faith and his sexuality to be thought-provoking and timely. Quite simply, Karamo sums up his feelings on the subject with three words: “God is Love.” Whether you are interested in the rest of this memoir, this single chapter is worth reading. (I think it was chapter 3…)

As Karamo speaks of his sons and his husband, it is easy to hear his love for them. The level of commitment that he expresses for his marriage is one that many couples in traditional marriages could benefit from. I don’t care what you think about this hot-button topic, Karamo’s proposal story will make anyone believe in romance.

I first began listening to this audiobook simply out of curiosity. Did this man that I watched on television many years ago have anything substantial to say? What I found was a gracious man who is passionate about life and helping others to live theirs in the most honest, fulfilling way possible.

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Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Trevor Noah)

The book’s title sat on my TBR list for several years after a colleague’s recommendation. With a long drive back to west Texas in front of me and a free subscription to Audible, I decided it was time to download Trevor Noah’s memoir and see what all the fuss was about. I am certainly glad I did.

Born a Crime brilliantly shares heart-wrenching stories from Noah’s childhood during the final days of apartheid. But the book is about so much more than racial prejudice. It’s about the challenges and laughter that result from growing up in a deeply religious home. It’s about the bond between a mother and son. It’s a tale of the horrors of domestic abuse and the struggle to come to freedom. It’s about life in the face of opposition and seemingly insurmountable challenges.

From his early revelation that his mother was shot in the head by his step-father, Noah pulls us into his childhood and begins to unravel his story with an obvious gift for storytelling. We are brought into a world where a child’s only crime is that he was born to a black woman and a white man. Not finding a welcome place in either racial community, Trevor struggles to be included and is the victim of bullying. He watches as his mother begins to innocently flirt with the handsome mechanic who will ultimately become his stepfather. Trevor explains why everything changes when a son is born to his mother and her new husband….and how the abuse quickly escalates.

Born a Crime is an excellent read filled with moments of thought-provoking asides about life as we know it. Noah explores the power of language as a unifying force and challenges our thoughts about race, freedom, and power. I enjoyed listening to the book, but I fully intend to pick up a copy of the written work as well so I can continue to digest the beautiful language and the insightful commentary. This is one book that you don’t want to miss!

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Ballplayer (Chipper Jones)

I’m not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination. I was never on a team during school. Hell, I would only go to sporting events once I got to college because of the social aspect of the games. But there was one game that I always enjoyed watching — baseball.

My love for the American pastime probably has its roots in early childhood evenings watching my brother play for the local community team. My interest waned as my brother served the military and my personal focus turned to music. When the Pepperdine Waves won the college World Series in the early 1990s, my interest was piqued again and I began to enjoy professional ball.  Of course, I had a lot of fun watching the Dodgers since I was in town, but most of my loyalty was rooted in my southern heritage. I fell in love with the Atlanta Braves and Chipper Jones became one of my heroes. I always wanted a crisp white #10 jersey and never got one.

During the 1990s, I spent many weekends in front of the television with my eyes glued to TBS to cheer on my Braves. When I saw Ballplayer in the digital library, I knew I wanted to read the memoir of my favorite player. I enjoyed reading about Chipper’s accomplishments from his perspective and seeing that even the best players struggle with relationships, criticism, and self doubt. It was a refreshing read and one that I’m very glad I took the time to explore.

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Educated (Tara Westover)

It should come as no surprise to those that know me personally that this memoir immediately caught my attention when I saw it on the bookstore shelf. I have always been passionate about the individual pursuit of personal education in the face of challenging situations. While Westover’s memoir does grapple with this important issue, Educated is a book about much more than this.

Tara Westover was a young woman raised in an ultra-religious Mormon home in Idaho. Because of her father’s belief that government institutions were not to be trusted, the family’s five children were “home-schooled” (if her limited education can truly be called that) and medical attention was limited to what could be provided through Mother’s homeopathic remedies. Tara, however, wanted more for her life and sought to experience higher education despite her limited education. To further compound Westover’s challenges, she experienced incredibly violent abuse at the hands of an older brother while her parents watched. Through tremendous perseverance and personal growth, Tara successfully attends BYU in Utah before culminating her studies at Harvard and Cambridge.

Tara’s story as recounted in Educated was profoundly moving to me and has caused me to think about my own struggles in life. Like Tara, I was also raised in a fundamentalist Christian movement that seemed to fear conventional education. Also like Tara, I experienced abuse — although my abuse was primarily verbal and mental — in my childhood home while my parents were seemingly unaware of what was truly going on. I identified with Tara’s feelings of inadequacy as she struggled through the first years of collegiate study. I vividly remember the first time that I recognized that the home life I had experienced as a child was not the norm — and, in fact, not emotionally or mentally healthy. I am currently in the process of coming to the realization that the place where I was raised is no longer “home” because I am no longer the child that silently suffered there for so many years.

Tara Westover’s book has certainly been a life-changing read for me. I took comfort in identifying with the emotions of another person who had escaped. Like Tara, I don’t know that I consider my departure from my abuser’s influence an escape or a harrowing experience. I think I finally came to the point that I was able to realize that they no longer had any influence over me and that I would no longer allow their voice to pierce the quietness of my mind. Like Westover, I too have been Educated and I am forever thankful for it.

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#27: My Glory Was I Had Such Friends: A Memoir (Amy Silverstein)

My personal reading slowed down during the month of December as I faced the end of a busy semester. The book I selected from my TBR list (that stands for “To Be Read” in case you aren’t familiar with the acronym) was Amy Silverstein’s My Glory Was I Had Such Friends. I had first heard of the memoir late in the summer and I thought it would be a celebration of friendship — something to read as I was going into the holidays. I did not expect that I would respond so emotionally to the book and experience moments where I didn’t know if I would be able to finish or not.

Amy Silverstein is a heart-transplant survivor. She first faced life as a transplant patient as a 25-year-old woman. Given a life expectancy of 10 years, Amy has defied the odds as she has made a successful life for herself. Now at the age of 50, Amy and her husband Scott face the reality that her time with her heart is running out and Amy needs a second transplant. The couple leaves their NYC home and head for Los Angeles to be treated at Cedars Hospital. 

Amy’s girlfriends cannot bear the thought that Amy and Scott will have to face this challenge alone. So they create a spreadsheet calendar and begin signing up for when they will join the couple in California and offer moral support and encouragement. These visits are the heart of My Glory Was That I Had Such Friends.

Amy’s love for her friends is apparent as each pair remembers the happy times they have spent together — raising children, falling in love with their husbands, and simply living life. As Amy’s health declines and the chances for a second transplant diminish, each friend finds herself at a difficult crossroads:  Does she allow her personal desire to keep Amy alive as long as possible outweigh her friend’s right to determine for herself when “enough is enough”? It is a moral and ethical dilemma that each woman must confront and figure out how to deal with the ultimate choice between life and death.

Silverstein’s descriptions of her illness are jarring throughout the memoir. With each biopsy, burning injection, and firing of her newly inserted pacemaker, the reader experiences the pain firsthand. Living in a family where heart complications have been par for the course recently, I found these passages especially difficult to read. I wept in sympathy with Amy’s friends as she finally reached the decision that she would give up the fight of her life when her 30 days on the highest-need transplant list came to an end. I rejoiced around Amy’s bed as she and her friends received the news that a matching heart had been found and was en route from Nevada. I wrung my hands with them as they waited for updates of the procedure’s progress.

My Glory Was I Had Such Friends will not be a great read for everyone. At times difficult to think about, at times heartwarming, and at times heartbreaking, the memoir is one that reminds us of the importance of surrounding ourselves with friends that can weather good times and bad. For those who choose to read Silverstein’s words, they will be a reminder of the importance to always be thankful for the friends that fill your life and treasure each moment with them.

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