BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates

January 17, 2016
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This book has been one of the most talked about books of 2015, won the National Book Award and tops many of the best books of the year lists. I’ve put off reading it because I knew it was going to upset me, and it did. But it is, in my humble opinion, one of the most important books of my lifetime. That is a big statement – and it’s true. And it seemed an excellent way to start the new year.

The book is a collection of letters that Coates writes to his 15-year-old son about racism in America. I grew up at the tail end of the 1960’s and into the 70’s with forced busing, free love, and what I sincerely hoped was (and marched for) a significant shift away from the conservative, narrow minded views of middle class America to a brighter, more inclusive future. For a while there, it seemed to be going that way but the past few years America has fallen back – or, maybe, as Coates explains it, it never really went away. Coates insists that racism in America is a permanent fixture, and he is not trying to make it go away, but rather teach his son how to live with it.

American history is explored and explained in a way that is truly eye opening. But it is the use of the body, specifically black bodies, that Coates expounds on that is both terrifying and tremulous, and hopefully continues to provoke much needed conversations.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. The language is lyrical and powerful, the subject matter moving and emotional and important, and the themes all encompassing and worthy of deep discussion.

Buy this book.

For further reading, The Atlantic (where Coates is a regular contributor) has an online book discussion that may be perused. It has ended, but the comments are worth reading.

1/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (July 14, 2015). ISBN 978-0812993547. 176p.

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HEADS IN BEDS by Jacob Tomsky

November 25, 2015
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A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality

Jacob Tomsky works the front desk of high end, luxury hotels. Here he offers up the inside dirt on what really goes on, how to get the most bang for your buck, but really his point is how to beat the system – all told in a most entertaining fashion. Think of it like Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential for the hotel industry.

Not all of his tips are, how shall I put this…ethical? But he explains why you shouldn’t worry about it. Personally, I have to sleep at night so his tips on how to avoid paying for in room movies and the minibar just didn’t sit right with me. But I will definitely use his tips on how to avoid paying the cancellation fee, how to get upgrades, why and when you need the concierge, and why you should always use and tip the bellman.

I listened to the audiobook, which the author reads, and he does a really good job. I actually had to stop it a few times to take notes! But for the most part, the note taking portion is in the appendix. The book itself is by turns funny, horrifying and always interesting –  at least to anyone who has ever stayed or is planning to stay in a hotel. A fun and informative read.

11/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

HEADS IN BEDS by Jacob Tomsky. Anchor (July 30, 2013). ISBN 978-0307948342. 320p.

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MY KITCHEN YEAR by Ruth Reichl

October 3, 2015
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136 Recipes That Saved My Life

For years Ruth Reichl has been recognized and revered for her work. But in 2009 with the folding of Gourmet, the critic/writer/editor was suddenly unmoored. She found solace in her kitchen, though, and that’s the heart of her latest release, My Kitchen Year.

This is no ordinary cookbook. My Kitchen Year is a book to be read as much as it is a book to be used. In fact, it’s something of a conversation between Ruth and her readers. Recipes are loosely built, leaving room for personal tastes and interpretations, and are accompanied by Ruth’s own writings on what was happening at that particular time in the days and months after Gourmet was shut down.

Recipes are arranged by season, featuring ingredients at the height of freshness, and while the dishes themselves run the gamut of food types and flavors – Easy “Bolognese,” Ma Po Tofu, “Tandoori” Chicken, Matzo Brei – , they all have one thing in common: comfort. From the Shirred Eggs with Potato Puree all the way through to the Quick, Easy Do-Ahead Dinner for Two People: A Ten Minute Meal (lamb chops with baked potatoes and shredded Brussels sprouts), Ruth takes readers on a journey through that year all the while sharing the dishes that helped her along the way.

My Kitchen Year is a fabulous cookbook filled with enticing recipes, gorgeous photography, and lots of heart. It’s perfect for Reichl’s fans as well as anyone who has a love for good food.

10/15 Becky LeJeune

MY KITCHEN YEAR by Ruth Reichl. Random House (September 29, 2015).  ISBN 978-1400069989. 352p.


YES PLEASE by Amy Poehler

July 30, 2015
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Narrated mostly by Amy Poehler (with help from Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Kathleen Turner, Mike Schur, Patrick Stewart et al)

Amy Poehler is funny and nice, and apparently a lot of really funny people like hanging out with her. This is one of the best audiobook memoirs because of all the readers – they really add something to the reading experience.

I was not a “Parks & Recreation” fan. We watched the first season, thought “eh” and stopped watching. Apparently (according to friends and family members who LOVE it) it got a lot better after that initial season. So after listening to this book and my friends and family, it is in my Netflix queue.

Amy talks about her life, her friends and her work. She talks about growing up outside Boston, motherhood, SNL, Parks & Rec and more. She also talks about her family, but sadly, she is divorcing (already divorced?) so that was in the back of my mind as she spoke lovingly about her husband.

I couldn’t help compare it to Bossypants (best of the comedic memoirs) and the Mindy Kaling book and frankly, it didn’t quite measure up. Nonetheless, it was definitely an enjoyable read, probably more so as an audiobook.

7/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

YES PLEASE by Amy Poehler. HarperAudio; Unabridged edition (October 28, 2014).  ISBN 978-0062350886. Listening Length: 7 hours and 31 minutes

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IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME? by Mindy Kaling

July 27, 2015
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Narrated by Mindy Kaling

There is something that is just so likeable about Mindy Kaling, and after listening to this book, that feeling has just been reinforced. She is, or at least appears to be, nice. Not an airhead for sure. Not a Hollywood egomaniac either – or if she is, she hides it well. And I don’t mean that she isn’t self confident because she is, and she definitely is self aware and smart, qualities that I greatly admire. And she’s funny as hell. This book is laugh out loud funny and also really smart, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mindy put together a collection of essays from her childhood, when she first started out writing for television, lots of inside info from The Office, and lots more. I loved the stories about her first writing job in Queens, her People magazine photo shoot, her family, Hollywood gift bags and well, pretty much all of it.

This is a fun read, especially to listen to as she reads it herself. Her next book, Why Not Me?, comes out Sept. 15. I am looking forward to it!

7/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME? by Mindy Kaling. Random House Audio; Unabridged edition (November 1, 2011).  ISBN 978-0307939807. Listening Length: 4 hours and 37 minutes

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LEAN IN by Sheryl Sandberg

January 31, 2015

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Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

I don’t read a lot of business type books, but I received an invitation from Random House to host what they were called “an authorless event” around this book, and I took them up on their invitation. They sent me flyers about Lean In, bookmarks and a DVD with a few brief messages from the author, including one geared towards book discussion groups. They also sent me book discussion guides.

After reading the book – which I ripped through in one Sunday afternoon – I could see why there has been so much hype around this book. The title alone, “lean in,” has become part of the vernacular. The book is part memoir, part career advice, and eminently personal. It reads as if Sheryl were there in the room, just having this conversation with you, the reader. She talks about some of the difficulties she’s overcome, and ones she still faces. She talks about her personal life, the “myth of having it all” in which working women seamlessly juggle a career (not just a job), a family, keeping a home, and do it all without any help. She calls BS on that, in her own way, and talks about guilt, the importance of choosing the right partner, and even suggests way to get your partner to do their fair share.

Sheryl’s dream is that half of all executive positions in America will be held by women, and half of the people doing the majority of the parenting will be men. She dreams big, and so far it’s worked for her. She is the first to point out that she is very lucky to be able to afford hired help, and to have such a supportive husband, but even with all her blessings, she still carries guilt around.

She talks about the importance of raising our children to respect leadership and talks about how little girls who show leadership are called “bossy” and little boys who do likewise are encouraged. She talks about why women should “sit at the table” and not fade into the background, why girls should raise their hands and speak up, even when being admonished for doing so, while it is acceptable for boys to do the same thing.  She has facts and figures to show that women are hired or promoted based on their accomplishments, while men are judged on their potential.

One of the more interesting statistics was about how people feel about feminism:

Currently, only 24 percent of women in the U.S. say that they consider themselves feminists. Yet when offered a more specific definition of feminism — “A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes”– the percentage of women who agree rises to 65 percent.

Frankly, I was surprised that number wasn’t even higher.

This is a well researched book with footnotes that are clearly laid out in more than 30 pages of notes in back, and there is a detailed index as well. Since I mostly read fiction, I forgot how wonderful it is to have an index when you are looking for a quote like the one above. The icing on the cake is that Sandberg founded a women’s empowerment nonprofit, LeanIn.Org.

In my day job, I’m a librarian for the Palm Beach County Library System and I’m the programming librarian at my branch. That means I’m responsible for creating a community oriented variety of programs that will hopefully inspire, educate and entertain, and on a really good day, maybe stimulate some discussion that lasts long after the program ends. I decided to build a program around this book, and my recent Business Women’s Networking and Book Discussion did just that.

I was fortunate to have access to a couple of really good resources, Susan Berger, our Business Librarian, and Sharon Geltner, the Small Business Development Center Certified Business Analyst at Palm Beach State College. Both women have done programs at my library, so I invited them to each speak briefly about the free resources available to businesses in Palm Beach County.

Then it was my turn to facilitate a book discussion of the Sheryl Sandberg book, and it was enlightening and better yet, started the seed of something bigger – a Lean In Circle. This is an inspirational and important book, and I urge anyone who works to read it – both men and women. There is a new edition called Lean In for Graduates, which expands on this book with additional chapters “offering advice on finding and getting the most out of a first job; résumé writing; best interviewing practices; negotiating your salary; listening to your inner voice; owning who you are; and leaning in for millennial men.”

1/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. Knopf; 1 edition (March 11, 2013). ISBN 978-0385349949. 200p.


THE ANDY COHEN DIARIES by Andy Cohen

November 22, 2014

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A Deep Look at a Shallow Year

Narrated by Andy Cohen

In case you missed my review of Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture, I  love Andy Cohen. I am a Bravo junkie and never miss an episode of Top Chef (in all its incantations,) the The Real Housewives of New Jersey (and occasionally other Housewives) and Watch What Happens Live, hosted by Andy Cohen.

I knew after reading his first book and then listening to it that I had to listen to the new one – Andy reads it himself, which really does add a whole new dimension. I love his little asides to us listeners, especially the part of the book where he discusses how he spent the afternoon recording the audiobook and how much he hated doing it, which he called “meta meta” for us listeners.

Andy was completely enthralled with The Andy Warhol Diaries, and this book is an homage to that one. He mentions another possible title, “Namedropping,” which certainly would have been appropriate as well. Andy kept a journal for 2013, and kept track of everyone he ran into, dined with (and where), topics discussed, guests on his show, shows where he was the guest, parties attended,  events that he emceed, and so forth. The names flow like water, from the aforementioned New Jersey Housewives, his oldest and dearest friends (see Most Talkative) and of course, the real celebrities: Oprah, Cher, Barbra Streisand, Lady GaGa, Beyoncé, as well as the celebrities he calls friends: Anderson Cooper, Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Fallon, Kelly Ripa & Mark Consuelos, and Sarah Jessica Parker (affectionately called “SJP” or even “SJ” throughout the book) and her hubby Matthew Broderick, the late great Joan Rivers and tons more.

Cohen obsesses with his weight, his workouts, his friends, and gossip, and his self deprecating sense of humor is always at the forefront. But the star of the book, besides Andy himself, is his dog Wacha, who as of 11/21/14 has over 200 pictures and 93,000 followers on Instagram, and Wacha is often the subject of his daily journal. Andy discusses how and why he came to adopt a dog, the vet he sees at the “Barbara Walters Animal Hospital” and the famous people who love Wacha and do Instagram photo shoots with him, like John Mayer. Wacha has become the love of his life and the antidote to loneliness. Andy dates a lot, mostly younger men, and claims he wants a husband (and his mother reminds him to find a husband) but no one promising is on the horizon yet.

One of the things I like best about listening to the book (besides the fact it entertained me on my long flights from Ft. Lauderdale to Los Angeles and back again) was that I could share it. My husband listened to whatever part I was up to while driving around L.A., and my daughter listened to some while driving around Boca, and everyone laughed and enjoyed the bits they heard. Very few books work that way.

The best memoirs are entertaining, informative and ring true, and once again Cohen meets all those criteria plus he is laugh out loud funny.  If you are the least bit obsessed with pop culture, celebrities and/or television, you do not want to miss this book.

11/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE ANDY COHEN DIARIES by Andy Cohen. Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (November 11, 2014). ISBN 978-1627792288. 352p.

Audible Audio Edition: Macmillan Audio; Unabridged edition (November 11, 2014). ISBN: 978-1427259318. Listening Length: 13 hours and 30 minutes.

 


NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL by Lena Dunham

October 31, 2014

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A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”

First of all, I have to talk about the book cover. It is a deliberate nod to the books of the 1970s, particularly feminist books like those from Betty Friedan, Erica Jong, Germaine Greer et al. I found that interesting since the author wasn’t even born then.

fear of flying

feminine mystique

And then there’s the female eunuchbook itself. This is a memoir from a woman who, while definitely young, has an explosive career based not on her looks, like a young pop star or supermodel, but on her talent.

If you are not familiar with Lean Dunham, you should be. At the age of 25, she was given her own TV show, Girls, on the prestigious HBO network and she is its creator, producer, writer and star. It probably helped that Judd Apatow fell in love with her independent film, Tiny Furniture, and is also a producer of Girls.

Be that as it may, she is the first woman to win the Directors Guild Award for Outstanding Director in a Comedy Series, has numerous Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, and I think it safe to say, has a very bright future ahead of her. So taking this time to look back may seem premature to some, but apparently Dunham had enough to say to fill a book. It also garnered a news worthy $3.5 million advance.

All that said, I didn’t love the book, probably because it’s about a time of life that I simply can’t relate to. Her stories reflect a coming of age at the cusp of the millennium, when I had children already; I mean, my son is older than Dunham. I was shocked and happy to see that she devoured Having it All, the classic book by Helen Gurley Brown, (I doubt my kids even know who she is, sad to say.) The stories definitely have some humor, some emotion, but also a certain standoffishness, as if some of these things happened to someone else entirely and Dunham was on the outside looking in. And some of the stories seemed simply therapeutic.

It was an interesting book and I would recommend it to twenty-something, maybe even thirty-something women but probably not anyone else. And frankly, my 22 year old daughter wouldn’t read it anyway.

Summary? I am a fan and it was nice getting to know Dunham a bit better outside the television milieu.  I’m glad I read it.

10/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL by Lena Dunham. Random House (September 30, 2014). ISBN 978-0812994995. 288p.


MOST TALKATIVE by Andy Cohen

October 7, 2014

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Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture

Narrated by Andy Cohen

I love Andy Cohen. I am a Bravo junkie and never miss an episode of Top Chef (in all its incantations,) the New Jersey Housewives and Watch What Happens Live, hosted by Andy Cohen.

So I when I heard he had a new book coming out,The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year, I decided to listen to his first book. I had read it when it came out, but listening to it brought a whole other level of pleasure – Andy reads it himself.

Most Talkative is a memoir, rich with stories of growing up in St. Louis, attending college at Boston University, his semester abroad in London, and finally landing in New York City and the news business. And of course, he dishes about celebrities he’s met, the Housewives and the Reunion shows. It’s camp at its best, and hearing him read his own stories is just fabulous.

The best memoirs are entertaining, informative and ring true, and this one meets all those criteria. If you like Bravo, the Housewives, or Andy Cohen, don’t miss this book. And I can’t wait for the next one!

10/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

MOST TALKATIVE by Andy Cohen. St. Martin’s Griffin; Reprint edition (April 2, 2013). ISBN 978-1250031464. 304p.

Audible Audio Edition: Macmillan Audio (May 8, 2012.) ASIN: B0081CDQ0K. Listening Length: 8 hours and 37 minutes.

 


SOUS CHEF by Michael Gibney

June 22, 2014

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24 Hours on the Line

Everyone has eaten in a restaurant but do you have any idea of what’s involved in getting your food to the table? The small glimpses garnered from the Food Network and other cable TV shows merely hint at what is involved. Here, Gibney defines it for us and takes us along on his wild ride.

This is the first book written in second person that I ever loved – and I mean loved it. I read it in one sitting. Dibney takes us through 24 hours in the life of a sous chef, the second in command in a kitchen. In effect he makes the reader a fly on the wall of his kitchen.

The restaurant is nameless, but is described as a neighborhood French restaurant that is upscale for sure, but not the toast of New York City. We meet the crew, from the executive chef, the man in charge, through the line cooks, prep cooks,and even the dishwashers. Front of house staff – the servers, waiters, et al, – are merely on the fringe here. This is a book about cooking.

Everyone here is passionate but not everyone is ambitious, which is probably a good thing. Kitchens can be very competitive, and indeed Gibney describes competitions he has with himself in putting together his mise en place. But it is serving the customer that is at the heart of this kitchen.

The pacing is relentless, the writing superior, and all in all this is just a fascinating read. I loved it.

6/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

SOUS CHEF: 24 Hours on the Line by Michael Gibney.Ballantine Books (March 25, 2014). ISBN 978-0804177870. 240p.