The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympics
by Daniel James Brown
I was recommended this non-fiction by a friend and then my book club decided to read it as well. So, I was doubly interested in reading it. I’ve been slowly becoming more interested in non-fiction, and this one sounded particularly fascinating. It combined biography, history, sports and art. Brown fleshes out the stories of the boys (and some of their families), their coach and the shell builder. This made the story personable and I felt like I really knew about the “players” in the story. Then there was all the history. Brown details American history about the depression, American sports and college rivalries. He also expounds and talks about the history of crew as a sport as well as includes history about the Olympics and Germany, specifically about Hitler. Brown giftedly describes the sport of crew. My favorite parts of the book were the races. I felt like I was right there watching the race, holding my breath, anxious for the outcome. Brown expertly recounts multiple races, making them come to life again! One of the things I didn’t realize was how much of crew is an art. There’s the actual rowing and blending as a team, but there is also the shell they race in and the building of it that is a real art. I really enjoyed how this book encompassed both the specific story about the crew boys who went to the Olympics and the broad history of America and Germany and the background of the boys. It made the whole book vivid and engaging. I came away having learned so much. One of the most powerful takeaways was the trust that the boys needed to build with each other in order to be successful. They needed to completely rely on each other and work as a team, versus individuals. The boys were able to this, which is what lead to their success and their ability to achieve “swing” (that evasive perfection that only few crews can find where they are all in perfect synchronicity). It was amazing to learn about these boys, who came from humble backgrounds (often poor and having lived very difficult lives), were able to overcome the odds and not only make it to the 1936 Olympics, but also win gold (again, against odds such as the worst lane and a sick stroke).
Summing it up: Brown is an engaging writer, and made this story come to life. I highly recommend it!
Devil in the White City
by Erik Larson
Several months ago my book club read The Devil in the White City. I was intrigued and nervous because this non-fiction is about a serial killer! It’s also about the Chicago World’s Fair, which was not nearly as intimidating. All in all, I really enjoyed it. I liked Larson’s pace and how he alternated between the World’s Fair story line and the serial killer story line. The subject matter ended up being fascinating and the book read nicely (it wasn’t dry, etc). That being said, it took me forever to read it! Even though I was interested, I just slogged through. I’m glad I read it though and I certainly recommend it.
As someone who knew nothing about either the World’s Fair or the horrors that were associated with it, I found The Devil in the White City to be engaging and interesting. Larson alternates between the two storylines, intertwining them chronologically, which was really cool. I was shocked that the World’s Fair started incredibly late for their opening date and even more surprised that they made it (mostly). Their plans were impressive and awe inspiring. The sad part was how many delays they had – one building had to be rebuilt at least three times. From weather, to fires, to strikes, it seemed impossible that the World’s Fair would open, and yet it did. My favorite piece of history that I learned was that the Ferris wheel was invented specifically for the fair. On the flipside, learning about Holmes (and his various aliases) was creepy and simply insane. He was crafty, clever and charming, bending countless men and women to his will. The creepy part was the pleasure he derived from killing people (mostly women and children). He either suffocated them or gassed them in the most horrific way. And the craziest part is that at that time, combined with the bustle of the fair, he got away with countless murderers before being tracked down. He could just call himself another name (and did so to marry at least three women), move around to evade debtors, and cause the disappearance of so many women without the a hint of alarm. In conclusion (some spoilers if you don’t know what happens), the World’s Fair was a huge success, but after it’s closing, faded away and parts burnt down. However, some remnants linger on today. As for Holmes, he decided to kill his accomplice, Pitezel, take three of his children (separating them from their mother) and then kill them for the pleasure of it. Pitezel’s wife was distraught at their disappearance (she did not know they were dead right away) and hired a private investigator to track them down. In the end, he followed Holmes’ trail, finding the two dead sisters first and then later finding their dead brother. Holmes was arrested, tried, and found guilty, ultimately being hung.
Summing it up: This story was creepy, fascinating, and I recommend reading it!
All the best, Abbey
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
by Steve Sheinkin
I dove into another non-fiction for my MOMS club book club, even though I couldn’t make it to our meeting. It was so highly recommended that I decided I had to read it. I’m a sucker for recommendations! Most Dangerous is a book on the Vietnam war; another topic that I didn’t think I’d be interested in. However, I loved Sheinkin’s book. His writing is phenomenal and I read the second half of the book in one night. He made this topic interesting and engaging, making me feel like I was reading a fiction. I’m so happy I read Most Dangerous and I’m looking forward to reading more books by Sheinkin!
The subtitle to Most Dangerous is: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. For me, I really knew next to nothing about the Vietnam war, so it was fascinating to learn about it in general, as well as Ellsberg’s role specifically. I loved how Sheinkin told Ellsberg’s story, weaving in presidential and political history. He gave a broad context as well as interesting specifics. I couldn’t read fast enough. Spoilers: as a young man Daniel Ellsberg was heavily invested in the government and in supporting the Vietnam war, even going over there to report and see first hand what was happening. As the years passed, he changed his mind and views and staunchly opposed the war, going so far as to steal classified government documents and leak them to the press. He ended up in hiding for a while and then taken to court by the US government. Ultimately, as the government’s shady decisions and actions came to light, Ellsberg’s case was dropped and he was free to live his life. Ellsberg’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers changed the way we view the government and was the first case of its kind. It’s amazing thinking about the gravity of his actions and choice to share secret information that he felt should not be secret to the American public.
Summing it up: I loved this book and can’t recommend it highly enough!
All the best, Abbey
Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea
by Sungju Lee & Susan McClelland
Because I liked the last book I read on North Korea, one of my library co-workers recommended this young adult non-fiction. As much as the subject matter is tragic, it is also fascinating. Even though it’s hard, getting outside of my bubble is so important to me and I think that’s why I enjoy stretching myself to read things beyond “happy fiction” (though we all know I’ll never stop reading that). I enjoyed reading from the viewpoint of a child/adolescent. It was very different: the tone of the book was light and fun, even while it was serious. I really enjoyed Every Falling Star and thought it was very well written.
Sungju Lee is a ten year old boy growing up in Pyongyang, the capitol of North Korea. He has a happy, carefree life, until one day his parents announce that they are moving to the country. There, a confused Sungju learns that it’s not vacation at all and something is very wrong. Later in life he learns that his father fell out of favor with the government. They slowly run out of food and working becomes pointless, so his parents stop and use their time to scavenge for food. Finally, Sungju’s father leaves. He decides to go to China and bring food back, but he never returns. Growing desperate, Sungju’s mother leaves one night to go to his aunt’s and also never returns. Sungju is starving and feeling utterly betrayed. He turns to one of his school friends who helps him and before long they start a gang filled with other boys who have been abandoned. They work together to find food, clothing, and shelter: simply to exist. Spoilers: Sungju spends the next six years struggling for survival: learning how to fight, becoming the strongest gang with a fearsome reputation, losing friends, and growing up. He becomes the leader of an established gang filled with his friends from day one, though he (and his gang members) still yearns for family. One day Sungju runs into his grandfather. He doesn’t believe it at first, but a portrait of his family convinces him that he has in fact found his grandparents. He leaves his gang, promising to visit every week. For a little while things are settled and happy – he even has a bed again. But then he is visited by a messenger with a letter from his father saying that he is in China and has been searching for Sungju all these years and wants him to visit. After agonizing over the decision, Sungju decides to risk it and agrees to journey to China. He crosses the river with his guide and is passed off to another man who gives him a passport and sends him on a plane with instructions to not say a word. Before long, Sungju is in South Korea and after much confusion is reunited with his dad! Sungju had a hard transition into his new life, but is now a successful, educated young man working toward helping create smooth North Korean integration into South Korea. He and his dad are still searching for his mom. It’s sobering to read of parents abandoning their children and children fighting for their existence. And even more so learning about the challenges once they’re able to leave North Korea . . .it is anything but easy. There’s hope in reading Sungju’s story though and I’m grateful he shared it with the world.
Summing it up: this was a challenging, beautiful story and I highly recommend it.
All the best, Abbey
The Food Babe Way
by Vani Hari
I am regularly, steadily thinking about health and food and fitness and how my family can be healthy and strong. I’ve been following Vani Hari here and there for a while, so I was curious about her book. I finally made the effort to pick it up and sure enough it was very interesting. Hari is passionate about discovering all the ingredients in everything she puts into her body. She is against “foods” that have a long ingredient list full of chemicals, products including GMOs, and antibiotics and other additives. She has done an incredible amount of research and included it in her book. I really enjoyed her style for the most part and I found her facts and way of eating fascinating and helpful. I don’t believe/agree with everything she says, but I think this book had a great amount of insight. I really liked how she categorized food groups and had a lot of science to back up what she said. There are so many chemicals that Hari defines by other places they are found, i.e. “azodicarbonamide, the yoga mat chemical.” This is helpful at first to understand that the ingredient is not food, but it’s so redundant and in and out of her entire book that it got annoying fast!
Summing it up: I’d recommend this book if you are curious about what’s in your food and are looking for options without chemicals/additives. It was a quick, informative read!
All the best, Abbey
Fluent in 3 Months
by Benny Lewis
Last month I did a decent amount of reading, but I didn’t have time to blog about anything. 😦 So, my next several posts are books from last month. One of the things I’m working on with my husband is learning to speak French. He works with a company in France and I’ve studies the language for years, but never worked aggressively with it to make it “stick.” Now that we can learn together and practice speaking it to each other, I’m adding some fluency books to my list. Fluent in 3 Months is the first one I tried and it definitely gave me a lot to think about when it comes to language learning! Lewis begins his book with “busting” all the myths for why an adult can’t learn a new language fluently. This section was awesome and very encouraging to think, “yes, I can learn a new language even though it hasn’t stuck before.” He has lots of tools for learning any language, and details them in his book, but he also references a variety on online tools, including his website, to help you learn any language. I thought one of his best suggestions was in regards to memorization – using mnemonic devices. This is where you use a story or picture or something personal to you to help you remember words. One example he gave was for the word “gare” which means “train station” in French. In a nut shell, he says, gare reminds him of the cartoon, Garfield. So, he created a story about Garfield running to a train station, puffing and sweating because he was late, and making the train just in time! Lewis explains that the crazier the story, the easier it will be to remember the word. Which is true, because I wrote all of that from memory – I think I’ll always remember what gare means! 😉 It’s more work upfront, but it pays off in the end. Overall, Lewis is fun and captivating, and gives very helpful suggestions.
Summing it up: I definitely recommend this book for anyone wanting to learn another language!
All the best, Abbey
The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion
by Elle Luna
In my humble opinion, I think everyone should read this book. The Crossroads of Should and Must was compelling, insightful, and honest. Luna is straightforward in her approach to this topic, which makes it a quick, inspiring read. The basic premise is that as individuals we are surrounded by thoughts and opinions of what we should do, but we all have a calling for what we must do. This brings us to a crossroads of deciding between what we should and must do. Luna elaborates and poses questions to ask yourself what the shoulds are and whether they need to be ignored, or if they are valid (for you). Then, she addresses how to determine your must — questions to ask yourself things to do, etc:
Finally, she talks about how to follow through when you know what your must is. How to balance that with the reality of life (such as needing to earn a living to support yourself and any family, while pursuing your must-if the two are different things). I really respected how Luna addressed the realities we all face. This was not simply a “feel good by running off and following your heart” book. It was a hands on, practical way to determine your calling and follow it in order to be fulfilled as a person. Inspiring.
Summing it up: I’m thoroughly impressed and compelled to figure out my should and must. And I can’t recommend this book highly enough!!
All the best, Abbey