The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch ~ Non-fiction #BookReview

8137230So, some of you may have heard of ‘last lectures’, where a professor is asked to give a lecture on what they would impart to their students before their death. Seems a little morbid, but the intention is right (I think). Randy Pausch, who was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give a last lecture. The only difference was he really was dying.

Instead of giving a lecture about lessons to learn before death, he gave a lecture on living. Entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”, Professor Pausch shared what he wanted his three young children, who would grow up without him, to know. The lecture was video taped, as well as used as the starting point for this book. In this book, Professor Pausch shares what he believes led to his success, lessons he learned while facing his impending death, and the wisdom he believed was truly important to pass on to his children.

It was inspirational, if a bit sad. In a way, it seems that when no longer faced with thoughts, worries and plans for the future, one can truly focus on living in the present, which I think too many of us fail to do. We’re so focused on our goals for the future, that we tend to forget to enjoy the now. I think it was Oprah who said, “live your best life now.” (I’m probably wrong, but it sounds good, right?) Regardless, I enjoyed this book and the lessons I found on every page. 5 stars!

The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless ~ Nonfiction Book Review

20828370This is the response to Into the Wild written by Chris McCandless’s sister, Carine. It’s supposed  to be the ‘real’ story, the one that helps readers to better understand Chris’s actions, and why they weren’t as rash or reckless or selfish as some people believe.

Let me begin by first saying that when I read Into the Wild, I didn’t judge Chris’s actions. He was simply a young man whose life came to an unfortunate, early end. I didn’t analyze his actions or scrutinize his motives. It’s not up to me to judge, and who’s to say that by doing what he did, that he didn’t manage to live more in 24 years than some do in a lifetime. To each their own.

That said, this wasn’t so much an expose as an emotional journey. Nothing shocking was revealed that wasn’t in Into the Wild to some extent, so if you’re looking for scandal, you’ll probably be underwhelmed. A powerful, moving, intimate tale about volatile family dynamics and a sister’s grief. 4 stars.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling ~ Nonfiction Humor Book Review

wpb20This book is cute. And funny. And after reading it, it’s apparent that Mindy Kaling is the cute, funny friend that everyone wants, so they probably aren’t hanging out without her.

Kaling briefly chronicles her childhood as well as her struggle to start her career and her slow rise to fame. She then shares her opinions on certain subjects. The book is written in a familiar tone, inviting the reader into Mindy’s ‘inner circle’ and making them feel like a friend.

If you’re looking for a cheeky book that will make you laugh, give this one a try. If you’re looking for something with depth, this book will probably leave you underwhelmed. I personally enjoyed it and reading it made me smile. For that I give it 5 stars.

Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton ~ Nonfiction Book Review

wpb10When I saw this book I knew I had to read it because 1) I love Diane Keaton and 2) I really needed to read something funny. I might as well get this out of the way – this is not a funny book. It has a few funny parts, some amusing anecdotes, but this is by no definition of the term a comedy.

I’ve loved Diane Keaton since I was a little girl and saw Baby Boom. Maybe it’s strange that I’ve never watched any of her earlier movies such as Annie Hall, but I’ve liked her in every movie I have seen her in. She struck me as kooky and quirky and someone who lives to the beat of their own drummer without caring what others think. My bubble has been burst. That’s the risk you run when you read a book written by a celebrity you like – you may feel differently about them after reading their words.

Don’t get me wrong – I still like Diane Keaton – but she is not the person I assumed her to be. Most of this book is about her insecurities – which are many. She shares the numerous flaws she believes exist in her appearance and the resulting disguises that have evolved. The hats, glasses, turtlenecks – none are kooky quirks; all are attempts to conceal perceived flaws.

In the later pages, Keaton shares some words of wisdom while also exploring the various definitions of what is beautiful. This book was not at all what I was expecting, but it was not entirely without its merits. 4 stars.

My Childhood by Maxim Gorky ~ Nonfiction Book Review

wpb8Maxim Gorky, hailed as the father of Russian literature, shares his firsthand account of Russian life in the late nineteenth century in this book, the first of three memoirs he would produce. This beautiful, if tragic account, paints a window for the reader to peer through time into an era of struggle and despair, told in the dispassionate  voice of a child. It reveals the both the resilience and the fortitude needed by the Russian people.

This is not a book with plot, action or humor. What it is is a series of eloquent descriptions and hard realism, laced with priceless Russian fairy tales, folklore and songs as told to Gorky by his Grandmother. It is a quick read, and one I’d recommend to those interested in memoir, history, realism, and to writers. Five stars.

Wild By Cheryl Strayed ~ Nonfiction Book Review

wpb6This book is brutally honest. The author splays herself across the pages, revealing hers sins and transgressions, opening herself up for judgement and condemnation. As I was looking over some of the reviews on Goodreads, I was surprised by how many people chose to do just that. I was shocked by how readily the jackals ripped this book apart.

Who reads a memoir about someone who has always made all the right decisions and known their path in life? Sounds pretty boring to me.

Maybe you can’t relate to some of Strayed’s mistakes. Maybe you find her behavior completely unforgivable and reprehensible. Maybe that’s how she felt about herself. Maybe that’s why she rashly decided to hike over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail when she was so ill prepared – to face her demons and her own behavior and find a way to embrace her mistakes as a necessary part of her journey through life. There is no sugar coating in the pages of this book. What you will find in this book is honesty, humor, and one individual’s tale of survival – not of the PCT, but of the situations thrown at her by life.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed is one of those books that exists on many different levels. It’s a book about adventure, a story to fuel wanderlust and exploration. It’s a tale about searching for one’s self and a place to belong – not in the sense of an actual place, but within yourself. It’s a book about making mistakes and losing your direction in life. And it’s a novel about the untimely loss of a parent.

I immensely enjoyed Strayed’s insightful prose, beautiful descriptions and sharp wit. I appreciated her story. You may not. In my opinion, five stars.

Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer ~ Nonfiction Book review

book1This was a very scary book. Written by Jon Krakauer, the author of Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, this books explores the history, and violence, of the Mormon faith. Due to the subject material, it was a little slow at times – I found my attention wandering and occasionally had to make myself reread passages.

Religion is a touchy subject, especially when you are discussing the darker aspects of faith, such as what is considered ‘God sanctioned violence’. I am aware that all religions have a history of ‘killing in the name of the Lord’. It’s just that for most (Western) religions, that history is far in the past, whereas Mormonism is relatively young, ‘American born’ faith. This is a subject that I honestly don’t want to get into, so there’s not much to say.

I read this book because it was recommended to me, and because I believe that it’s important for me to educate myself before forming opinions about matters that I know nothing about. This book has left me with some very strong opinions. One of them is that I really don’t want Mormons knocking on my door (not that I did before, but now I really don’t).

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson ~ Nonfiction Book Review

book21.jpgI picked up this book as a means of research because I wanted to learn more about hiking the Appalachian Trail . I’ve been mulling over the same book idea for over a year, but just couldn’t seem to put it to paper. I’ve hiked parts of the AT, but only those found in the northeast. How could I possibly write about a 2100+ mile trail that begins in Georgia and ends in Maine without seeming like a total fraud? Or worse, an inexperienced idiot? I set out to solve this problem the same way I always do – by reading.

I picked up this book by Bill Bryson before I knew that it was being made into a movie. It seemed like an ideal starting point to learn more about hiking the AT without losing myself in a dry, technical trail guide. My hope was that this firsthand account would provide me with with both information and color – and it did!

This book mixes Bryon’s account of hiking the trail with the history of the AT, the surrounding wilderness, and anything else Bryson thought would be useful (or fill pages). The end result is an awesome educational tool (for me) that is surprisingly funny! I enjoyed this book much more than I anticipated I would enjoy reading about two middleaged men walking in the woods. It was, in my opinion, a delightful surprise that held my attention and made me itching to lace up my hiking boots and hit the trail. Five stars.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer ~ Nonfiction Book Review

book24This is a book that I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I’ve read Jon Krakauer before and knew he had an easy, enjoyable style of writing. I expected this to be a gripping story, but I had no idea exactly how enthralling it would be.

Let me start by saying that I also had no idea how dangerous it is to climb Mount Everest. Difficult, yes, but when actually presented with the statistics (and these are out of date – they don’t include several subsequent tragedies) I was absolutely shocked. That tourists, as in, not professional mountain climbers, would continue to pay upwards of $65,000 apiece to be led into such a deadly situation leaves me speechless. Not speechless enough to not find the words to tell my husband that I am no longer okay with him climbing Everest, but I had few words beyond that.

The book explores Krakauer’s firsthand account of a climb during the deadly 1996 season, during which several of his fellow climbers and guides, among others, lost their lives. After reading his story it is clear how easily (and how often) tragedy strikes on this mountain. There are no rescue missions to the top of Mount Everest. You are literally hiking at the altitude that jets fly, under what are severe conditions at best.

I can’t remember ever reading a nonfiction book that kept me in such a state of suspense before. It almost reads like fiction, and like a horror story, it’s scary. I could not put it down. Five stars.

Sand in My Bra ~ Non-fiction Review

book10This book caught me with its catchy title and the promise of funny tales of mishaps women experienced while traveling, so I overlooked the pink cover and bought it. After all, I love to travel, and having no plans to do so soon, I might as well live vicariously. And what better than a few stories of roaming gone awry to make me better appreciate my couch, right?

This wasn’t the hilarious escapade I had hoped it would be. Only a handful of the stories made me laugh out loud (which is not very hard to do). I appreciate what they were trying to do here, and if I saw a sequel, I’d give it a chance. Cute, if a little kitschy, and probably only half as amusing to a male reader. Three stars. (Four if they let me ride the fish thing on the cover.)