Category Archives: Books

Book Review: The Wine Lover’s Apprentice by Kathleen Bershad

The Wine Lover's Apprentice

As y’all may know, I am a self-professed WINERD. Of course I love drinking the stuff, but learning about wine can be just as pleasurable! Do you agree? When we were living in Miami, I even worked part-time on the occasional evening and weekend at a wine store in our neighborhood. I learned a tremendous amount about wine and the industry, and it was so much fun to interact with people from all sorts of walks of life who were so passionate about the subject.

But of course, any life-long learner will tell you there’s always room for more knowledge! Which is why, when I heard about The Wine Lover’s Apprentice: Words of Wisdom for Would-Be Oenophiles by Kathleen Bershad, I JUMPED at the chance to grab a copy.

This book decodes the world of wine so that when you encounter a wine review or a new bottle, or even a tableside aficionado, you’ll understand…and even feel enough in the know to offer your two cents!

Author Kathleen Bershad is a wonderful guide throughout. And no wonder, with over 15 years of experience in the food and wine biz, she really knows her stuff! She has worked as a food writer and restaurant reviewer and now runs her very own consulting practice – Fine Wine Concierge. She earned her Sommelier Certification from the American Sommelier Association.

The first part of the book delves into everything you need to know to consider yourself a true wine geek. Everything from tasting notes to storing to picking out the perfect bottle at a shop or restaurant.

The rest of the book is reserved for a tour of the world by way of wine regions. Starting with…

Which makes this book a perfect companion if you’re looking to expand your palate. Read up on a region, hit the wine store to stock up, and REPEAT.

What’s so wonderful about wine is that there is always a story behind each bottle. And where the wine comes from is a great starting place for that story! Before you know it, you’ll be busting out wine facts to your dinner guests like it’s nothing!

It’s Bershad’s hope that once you make it through her book, you’ll “become empowered to know what’s in a bottle, be able to make an educated guess about its flavors, and help change the culture to make drinking wine what it should be―relaxing and fun.” And I think she succeeds! Of course, I would add you should definitely make your way through the chapters with a glass of something in hand!

This book is perfect for anyone who loves trying new wines and wants to up their overall knowledge in an effort to become one step closer to a tried and true oenophile!

If that’s not you, perhaps you know someone you would classify as a WINERD. This book would make a wonderful gift! Pair it with a bottle, a beautiful stemware set, or even a lovely bottle stopper. Christmas is right around the corner!

Here’s the link one more time!

Are you a fan of wine? Do you like learning about it or just drinking it? (No judgement! haha)

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For the love of BOOKS!

What have you been reading lately? While I believe ALL seasons are great for reading, Fall weather feels especially conducive. Don’t you think? There’s something so lovely about curling up on the couch because, hey, it’s already dark outside…but in reality you still have plenty of hours ’til bedtime.

I think Anne, of Green Gables fame, said it best —

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

Sad to see October go. But so excited for what books lay ahead in November! If you’re in the same boat, here are some books I’ve read recently that I’d recommend for next month’s evening couch sessions:

Sharp Objects
Delancey
Honeymoon in Purdah
Under the Banner of Heaven
All the Light We Cannot See
The Vacationers
Some Girls
Confessions of a Prairie Bitch

I’m currently reading The Silver Star, which is written by the same person who wrote The Glass Castle. My friend recently recommended Nevada (I added it to my reading list right away), and my mom and sister both LOVED The Electric Woman. Also, I recently saw someone perform an amazing oral interpretation of a story from Her Body and Other Parties, which totally made me want to reread.

So, what are YOU reading? Anything you’ve read in the last few years that you can’t stop recommending to people? Would love to hear!!

P.S. How to make time for books.

How to Make Time for Books

After a book binge on the topic of polygamy (I know…I’m weird), I’m currently reading Honeymoon in Purdah by Alison Wearing.

WHAT ARE YOU READING?

If the answer is nothing…that’s ok. I’m here to provide some gentle encouragement that if you want to start making more time for books, you CAN! With all the back-to-school vibes hanging out in the air, I totally believe now is a great time to recommit yourself to lifelong learning. Reading books is such an important part of that.

So, you’re on board. (Woohoo!) But how can we make more time for books in our busy, busy lives? Here are a few ideas…

1. Schedule Reading Time

I am one of those people who has lots of aspirations but not a lot of follow-through. (See also: this post.) So I can saaaaay I wanna finish a book a week, but if I don’t actually set aside dedicated time to do said reading…it’s probably not gonna happen. That rogue 30 minutes in my day will go *poof* and I’ll still be sitting at my computer clicking around on pointless stuff.

INSTEAD! I really study my planner (I use this one) for those free pockets of time and schedule in the stuff I want to do.

I’ve also written a post about how you can “set and forget” self-care that you can check out HERE. If hunting down reading time doesn’t sound like your bag, no worries! Pick a recurring time slot and stick to it.

2. Read Books You Like

This might be a no-brainer but I think it’s important to point out. If you want to make reading a habit that you’ll stick with, then you’ve gotta read books that interest you! After all, you want reading to be something you look forward to.

A great way to find MORE books you like is by talking about books. Share your favorite reads with friends and family and get their recommendations. I like to keep a list of book recommendations I’ve gathered from folks I know and cool reviews I come across on the internet.

Then, bring that book you like with you wherever you go! If you get stuck waiting somewhere you can pull out the book instead of your phone. It’s amazing how a random 10 minutes at the pharmacy here and a 15 minutes in a parking lot because you’re chronically early to stuff (just me?) there really starts to add up.

Oh and, NOTE: If you don’t end up liking a book? GUESS WHAT!? You don’t have to finish it! I had a weird aversion to ditching books until like really recently and I gotta say…this way is much better. Frees up a lot of time for the books you’re actually going to enjoy. So, there ya go–I grant you my permission, for what it is worth.

3. SHARE!

Sharing is WHAT? Accountability! 

I love, love, love posting about what I’m reading (and what I’ve just finished reading) on social media. I’m sure it’s not the most thrilling of content but it holds me accountable with my reading goals. (I also enjoy tracking my reading privately which you can read more about HERE.)

Other fun ways to share about books include joining a book club, reading a book with a friend, or tracking on the Goodreads app. Find what is fun for you!

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about kicking off an email-based book club in January 2019. Would anyone be interested in that!? Let me know below and subscribe to my email list so you’ll be in the loop!

Ok, over to you! How do you make time for books? Share your secrets (and stuff I missed) below. 

 

P.S. If you’re basically blind but also wanna double down on reading time by adding in a dose of self-care…you’ll have to wear your glasses over top of your face masks. It’s a LEWK! 🙂

The 10 Most Recent Additions to My Reading List

what to add to your reading list summer 2018

I’ve talked before about my stupidly long reading list, so today I thought I’d share some books I’ve recently added!

Whenever I hear about a cool book on a podcast, read a great author review, or a friend recommends a page-turner they just finished; I’m quick to jot the title and author down. Now, if only there were a few more hours in the day that I could devote to tackling my list!

Here are the latest additions…

1. The Year They Tried to Kill Me: Surviving a Surgical Internship…Even if the Patients Don’t by Salvatore Iaquinta, MD
A follow-up read to my binge watch of ER.

2. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Seems right up my Downton Abbey alley!

3. Unshattered: Overcoming Tragedy and Choosing a Beautiful Life by Carol Decker with Stacey L. Nash
 The author’s interview on this blog post really struck a chord. 

4. The Idea of You by Robinne Lee
Another addition thanks to an author interview. This time on a podcast

5. Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski, PhD
Always down for a good pop-sci read and this one’s cover is especially cheeky. 

6. Night Moves by Jessica Hopper
Recently devoured a couple novels by Emma Straub and she recommended this book/author!

7. Educated by Tara Westover
EVERYONE is talking about this book.

8. The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale
The way this story is structured sounded interesting to me. 

9. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Feels like an important read given the current state of things. 

10. Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith
This book is the most ME sounding thing ever and it is set in Kentucky!

[ Plus, just for fun, here are 10 non-book things I’ve recently added to my Amazon Wish List:

An air purifier,
This pillow,
Slouchy denim jacket,
A-line denim skirt,
Reusable straws,
This gorgeous blanket,
A cruelty free mascara,
Magnesium supplement that tastes like watermelon,
Handy-dandy water purifier,
and a straightening brush. ]

Where do you get your book recommendations? Any blogs or podcasts that clue you in to the best reads? (A Cup of Jo and Call Your Girlfriend usually knock it out of the park for me.) 

What Will Happen When You Start Reading More Non-Fiction

*This post may contain affiliate links.*

I’m a big believer that everyone should be reading more. Did you know, 1 in 4 Americans didn’t read a single book last year? For someone who has always considered myself a bookworm…this blows. MY. MIND.

Of the books out there, I think non-fiction gets an especially bad rap. They’re all like those school text books that put you straight to sleep, right?

WRONG!

In fact, besides the multitude of non-fiction books that are just as page-turner-friendly as their fictitious cousins, reading non-fiction can come with a lot of benefits…

You’ll Learn Valuable Lessons

When you read non-fiction, you can learn a ton of valuable life lessons. You could read about a specific time in history or read the biographies of interesting folk, giving you insight into both tragedies and triumphs. Reading non-fiction can help guide you when new opportunities come your way. They can offer you a powerful lens through which to view the world around you.

You’ll Improve Your Concentration

Reading requires a ton of focus. Increasing the amount of time you spend reading non-fiction each day can drastically help with concentration and productivity levels. I have found reading for 15 minutes before tackling a task that requires a lot of focus preps my brain to concentrate. Other times this may be of benefit to you? On a public transit commute, before you go to bed, or while you’re waiting for an appointment. 

You’ll Master New Communication Skills

Did you know that reading non-fiction can improve your communication skills as well? Your vocabulary will certainly expand, but you’ll also be able to begin mirroring how accomplished authors formulate their thoughts into words with the greatest efficacy. This can help you look more professional in the workplace and it can also help you gain confidence when expressing yourself.  You’ll find that many language learners practice English by reading aloud. Even as a native speaker you can take a page from their book (pun intended!) and brush up on your skills with a little at-home oration!

You’ll Gain General Knowledge

When you read non-fiction, you can easily boost your level of general knowledge as well as your intellectual level. (And if you’re still in school, actually doing the assigned reading will make sure you’re better prepared for those quizzes as well.) Regularly reading non-fiction will help you to better answer questions on the spot and give you fantastic talking points when you meet people who have similar interests to you.

If you’re convinced, here’s a reading list of some of my favorites to get you started —

A Few Non-Fiction Faves:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Kitty Genovese by Kevin Cook (I blogged about this one HERE.)

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (I blogged about this one HERE.)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky (I blogged about this one HERE.)

* * *

At the end of the day, non-fiction will expand your knowledge and increase your intellectual confidence. When you put the work in and set time aside for reading, you can easily reap these benefits. Reading non-fiction is such a wonderful way to learn more about new subjects and expand your interests! So go do it!!!

 

On the most beautiful work of all

Have you ever read the book Just Kid’s by Patti Smith? I read it years ago but it’s one of those books that sticks with you long after you’ve closed the back cover. In it, the renowned artist recounts her exceptional relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe as they navigate New York City, specifically the Chelsea Hotel, in the 60’s and 70’s.  It is one of the most beautiful depictions of friendship I have ever read.

While the couple parted romantically, they remained close friends and it is clear they understood each other and each other’s art more than anyone else could. Truly artistic soul mates.

Recently, I stumbled upon the letter Patti wrote to Robert days before his untimely passing – a letter he was never able to read. It made my breath catch just as it had the first time I read it.

Dear Robert,

Often as I lie awake I wonder if you are also lying awake. Are you in pain, or feeling alone? You drew me from the darkest period of my young life, sharing with me the sacred mystery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and never compose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowledge I derived in our precious time together. Your work, coming from a fluid source, can be traced to the naked song of your youth. You spoke then of holding hands with God. Remember, through everything, you have always held that hand. Grip it hard, Robert, and don’t let it go.

The other afternoon, when you fell asleep on my shoulder, I drifted off, too. But before I did, it occurred to me looking around at all of your things and your work and going through years of your work in my mind, that of all your work, you are still your most beautiful. The most beautiful work of all.

Patti

Isn’t that so heartbreaking and extraordinary? What a lovely reminder to us all – amidst the pressures we encounter every day to do good and beautiful work, to create, and to leave something behind that’s bigger than us – that we can be the most beautiful work of all. That people will remember a smile or a kind ear or our unfaltering friendship before anything else.

Just something I’m sitting with and thinking about and wanted to share. xoxo

Beautiful Work:

If you’ve never read Just Kids, I HIGHLY recommend picking it up.

Here’s a great interview Patti Smith did about Robert Mapplethorpe.

Looking for another great read? I recently finished Some Girls by Jillian Lauren and it’s a really fun and fascinating memoir. In it, Jillian Lauren often asks herself, “What would Patti Smith do?”

What do you think? What does Patti’s letter bring up for you? Let’s chat in the comments below. Love y’all! 

Book Review: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures 
by Emma Straub

When Elsa Emerson, the youngest of three sisters, is cast in one of her father’s plays at their family’s Cherry County Playhouse in Wisconsin, she is given her first taste of the limelight. This sets into motion her life’s trajectory — shooting like a rocket out of Wisconsin and into the warm allure of Hollywood. Here, she begins her transformation from small-town blonde to a sultry brunette named Laura Lamont — an Academy award-winning movie star.

What I loved most about this book was how authentic it felt. Elsa/Laura was largely fictitious (based loosely on this actress), her story an invention of Straub’s mind and careful historical research. However, having recently read a few memoirs of Hollywood starlets from this same era (Katharine Hepburn’s “Me: Stories of My Life” a couple years ago and Esther Williams “Million Dollar Mermaid” a couple months ago), I felt as though Miss Lamont could have been shooting on a sound stage just down the hall from either of these real-life ladies!

An interesting similarity I found in reading about Hepburn and Williams was the loss of a beloved sibling early in their lives. Both women experienced the death of a brother and in turn felt a heightened sense of responsibility and drive. Esther Williams explains in her book how her brother was the one who was supposed to “make it” in life and in Hollywood. After his death, she felt as though she was two people in one body — her brother Stanton and herself. Hepburn threw herself into her studies after losing her brother and even celebrated her brother’s birthday as her own.

Similarly, the eponymous Lamont loses the sister she deems to be the most talented and beautiful of the Emerson brood. I think this is a fascinating look at the sacrifice and loss that sometimes sits lurking behind a person’s fame and success. How many of Hollywood’s elite might point to a dark cloud they used to buoy themselves? How many have a tragedy that compelled them to succeed in place of, because of, or in spite of this missing piece?

The book also delves into intergenerational mental illness and suicidality as multiple branches sprouting from Laura’s family tree find themselves facing loss and depression. It’s no secret that mental illness, addiction, and all sorts of family problems (divorce, death, MONEY) have gone hand in hand with Hollywood since film started rolling. But looking at these issues over the course of an entire life, and within multiple generations of a family, is a more fitting lens for exploring the effects of our favorite tabloid fodder.

Who should read this book – Anyone interested in The Golden Age of Hollywood, film making during the studio system era, and intergenerational mental illness.

Add to your list if you loved – Any memoirs of Hollywood stars; like Me: Stories of My Life  by Katharine Hepburn and Million Dollar Mermaid by Esther Williams.

Other books by Emma Straub – Modern Lovers and Vacationers !

Book Review: The Binding Chair or, A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society by Kathryn Harrison

The Binding Chair or A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society
by Kathryn Harrison

In this historical fiction novel, we meet our main character May-Li at the turn of the last century in China. Early on in the book she experiences the trauma of foot binding at the hands of her grandmother. From here, the book charts May’s path from abusive marriage to her escape to Shanghai. Although she must turn to prostitution as a means of income, her astonishing beauty, bound feet, and quick study of languages allow for speedy upward mobility. Ultimately landing her a husband from Australia.

May becomes a fixture in her husband’s Jewish family and forges a special bond with his niece Alice. The expertly researched novel covers the pair’s journey from Shanghai to a boarding school in England and back to China. Along the way, readers are introduced to other women who have all, much like May, experienced some sort of physical or mental defacement. While at times I felt like the book was trying to cover too many characters, too many stories that didn’t help move the narrative along; this cast of women did serve as a relatable reflection of May’s bound feet to a Western audience perhaps unable to conceptualize the rituals effects.

Even so, The Binding Chair felt broad, both in setting and emotion, in a way that I thought unnecessary and left the narrative feeling incomplete. However, in reading some reviews and articles about the book, others have argued that the enormity of what Harrison takes on in this novel speaks to feelings of diaspora. In a story charting the path of a Chinese woman in a family of Jews this reading would make sense. Conceptually I applaud it but stylistically I found it challenging. 

At the end of the day, while the story was cluttered and the fetishistic scenes regarding foot binding felt a little gratuitous, Harrison does afford readers an amazing investigation into a different world.

Who should read this book – Anyone interested in Shanghai at the turn of the last century and the Chinese ritual of footbinding.

Add to your list if you loved – Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See or Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende.

Other books by Kathryn Harrison – The bestselling memoir The Kiss about her incestuous love affair with her father.

Book Review: Kitty Genovese by Kevin Cook

Kitty Genovese: The Murder, The Bystanders, The Crime That Changed America
by Kevin Cook

The story of the murder of Kitty Genovese is well-known by many. However, more urban legend than police blotter, the details of the story shift and change with each telling. Facts becoming murkier and then new research rising to the surface to make the waters of truth clear again.

Even folks for whom Kitty’s name was simply an answer on a Psych 101 exam can recount the basics of her demise: in the 60’s, a murderer stabbed a young woman in her 20’s over and over again as she walked home from a late night bar-shift. 38 bystanders watched from the windows of their Queens-New York apartments and did nothing to help her.

While Kevin Cook isn’t the first writer or scholar to sort through the details of Kitty’s case and posit that much of what we think we know, the story that exists within our public memory, is mostly contrived; Cook’s uncovering is so comprehensive that for me it completely changed what this murder meant in the context of life, and crime, in America.

Before reading this book I knew about the Kitty Genovese murder and the Bystander Effect. I didn’t expect it to unfold in the suspenseful manner I love when reading true-crime books. But Cook surprised me and managed to do just that. He peels back layer after layer of the crime we think we know, the assumptions we made about the urban human condition, and reveals new details at just the right moment.

The detail most often treated as fact in Genovese’s case is that 38 spectators were present while she died. Not acting, simply assuming that someone else would intervene. In fact, 38 came from the number of police interviews conducted at the scene of the crime. Not actual witnesses. Only a few folks heard Kitty’s screams and even less laid eyes on her in her final 20 minutes. The first-hand accounts of these few are revealed slowly within the book–the final encounter so heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure. (It makes the whole book worth it so I won’t ruin it by revealing any details here.)

A few days after the tragic incident occurred, Winston Moseley confessed to the crime. But Moseley and Genovese aren’t the only key players Cook explores. Metro Editor of The New York Times, A.M. Rosenthal had a big part to play. After a meeting with the NYC police commissioner, Rosenthal took the 38 witness story and ran with it. And other media outlets around the world followed suit. Suddenly the crime became a viral sensation, inspiring a host of psychological and sociological studies. However, the most meaningful implication to all the publicity, in my opinion? The arrival of a 911 call system. Something that didn’t exist the night Kitty cried out for help.

Whether he knew the story would or not, Rosenthal struck a chord with Americans who were scared. Scared about the changing landscape of urban living, scared by new politics and ideas and neighbors so close who looked so different, scared because the assassination of their president was still so fresh in their minds. But he got his facts wrong. And, as a result, we all did too.

This book showed me that Kitty’s story isn’t about indifference or inaction on the part of bystanders. Quite the opposite. This true-crime tale is about our vulnerability towards stories that speak to our own preconceived notions. What each reader of Cook’s book does with this new information, is up to them.

Who should read this book – Anyone interested in true-crime, sociology, urban psychology, or how news media outlets and public consciousness interact.

Add to your list if you loved – Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker (which I talked about HERE.)

Other books by Kevin Cook – Electric October, Driven, and Titanic Thompson.

Five Great Poetry Books!

Are you a fan of poetry books? They are my very favorite when I need to mix things up between lengthy novels and dense nonfiction! I love how the language bounces around the page each in their own unique way and they’re so much fun to read out loud.

Here are 5 of my favorites…

Babel by Barbara Hamby

Hamby’s poems drift across histories and continents, from early writing and culture in Mesopotamia through the motion-picture heaven that seems so much like Paris, to odes on such thoroughly American subjects as hardware stores, bubblegum, barbecue, and sharp-tongued cocktail waitresses giving mandatory pre-date quizzes to lawyers and “orangutans in the guise of men.”

Favorite poems: Vex Me, The Tawdry Masks of Women, and Ode on My Mother’s Handwriting.

 

Skid by Dean Young

 In Skid, Young’s fifth book of poems, social outrage vies with comic excess. He embraces the autobiographical urge with fury and musically lush exclamations. Whether through the dark facts of mortality or the celebratory surprises of the imagination, these poems proclaim vitality and alertness, wasting nothing. Young’s poems reveal his faith in the genius of calamity and the redemptive power of fun.

Favorite poems: Sources of the Delaware, Whale Watch, and Troy, Indiana.

 

Jane: A Murder by Maggie Nelson

Jane tells the spectral story of the life and death of Maggie Nelson’s aunt Jane, who was murdered in 1969 while a first-year law student at the University of Michigan. Though officially unsolved, Jane’s murder was apparently the third in a series of seven brutal rape-murders in the area between 1967 and 1969. Nelson was born a few years after Jane’s death, and the narrative is suffused with the long shadow her murder cast over both the family and her psyche.

Favorite poems: Phil’s Photos, Serials, and The Burn.

 

Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney

The poems in Nikky Finney’s Head Off & Split sustain a sensitive and intense dialogue with emblematic figures and events in African American life: from civil rights matriarch Rosa Parks to former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, from a brazen girl strung out on lightning to a terrified woman abandoned on a rooftop during Hurricane Katrina. 

Favorite poems: Red Velvet, Thunderbolt of Jove, and Segregation, Forever.

 

New Collected Poems by Wendell Berry

In New Collected Poems, Berry reprints the nearly two hundred pieces in Collected Poems, along with the poems from his most recent collections―Entries, Given, and Leavings―to create an expanded collection, showcasing the work of a man heralded by The Baltimore Sun as “a sophisticated, philosophical poet in the line descending from Emerson and Thoreau . . . a major poet of our time.”

Favorite poems: Planting Trees, The Dance, A Poem of Thanks and The Country of Marriage.

P.S. Bonus: Found Footage by Maggie Woodward is a newly found fave written by a dear friend. You should check it out, too!