I have a meditation pillow. It’s like a big biscuit I put under my butt so my legs don’t fall asleep while I meditate (legs falling asleep is the #1 obstacle to enlightenment). In 10 years of owning this pillow, I had used it less than 20 times. That changed 2 months ago, when I read Dan Harris’s book about his own discovery of meditation, 10% HAPPIER: HOW I TAMED THE VOICE IN MY HEAD, REDUCED STRESS WITHOUT LOSING MY EDGE, AND FOUND SELF-HELP THAT ACTUALLY WORKS—A TRUE STORY. I’ve meditated every day since.
Time magazine called Bryan Stevenson’s JUST MERCY one of the 10 best nonfiction books of 2014. The next year, it won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. I wouldn’t have known. The book was sitting on my nightstand, making me feel slightly guilty.
“I don’t think I’m a food writer any more than I am a love writer or a fish writer or a fowl writer. I just write about life.”
This quote might seem surprising since M. F. K. Fisher is synonymous with food writing. Her 30+ books are largely centered on food, as clearly exhibited in THE ART OF EATING, which has been in print since 1954. This masterful tome contains her five most popular books—SERVE IT FORTH (1937), CONSIDER THE OYSTER (1941), HOW TO COOK A WOLF (1942), THE GASTRONOMICAL ME (1943) and AN ALPHABET FOR GOURMETS (1949). An eclectic mixture of instruction, opinion, and autobiography, her writing is straightforward but beautiful, giving the reader a sense of familiarity with every story told.
There are certain characters that are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine our lives without them. Princess Leia is one such character for me.
To avoid this review becoming a diatribe of Leia’s significance in my life, I will simply say that there has been no character that has inspired, strengthened, and just plain wowed me as Princess Leia has.
I was scanning the nonfiction aisle at Barnes & Noble, always a sucker for the “dysfunctional family” memoirs, when THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls caught my eye. I picked it up and opened to the dedication page: To John, for convincing me that everyone who is interesting has a past. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a book reel me in by the dedication page, but this one did.
The tiny country of Belize packs a lot into its 9,000 square miles—an area about the size of New Jersey. The Central American nation boasts stunning Mayan ruins, a vast network of caves, extensive undeveloped regions (more than 60 percent of the country is forested, and much of that area is protected), extraordinarily diverse wildlife and human culture, beautiful beaches, and the second-largest barrier reef in the world. Belize is also home to the scarlet macaw, considered by many to be the most beautiful bird in the world.
There’s an unwritten rule (possibly one I made up myself) that if you’re in a reading rut, it’s best to turn to a book that you’re certain will deliver. I was introduced to the book that rescued me from my latest slump in the middle of a “Parks and Recreation” binge—during which I came to admire Leslie Knope’s (Amy Poehler) aggressive optimism and unfettered ambition (two attributes I was seriously lacking). I picked up Amy Poehler’s bestselling memoir YES PLEASE—and I was not disappointed.
Paul Kalanithi recounts the story of his own mortality with the precision of a surgeon and the poeticism of a gifted writer—because, of course, he was both.
But his uncanny ability to inhabit two seemingly disparate worlds does not end here; his narrative also straddles the divide between doctor and patient, caretaker and cared for, lackadaisical philosopher and man of reason. At the heart of this reckoning is the battle that consumes his days: “to pursue death: to grasp it, uncloak it, and see it eye-to-eye, unblinking.” WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR is the beautiful, heartbreaking exploration of this very inevitability that we all fear—but that few dare to look straight in the eye.
When we meet Bobo, who is Alexandra Fuller’s younger self in her memoir DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT, it is very late, or very early, and she is in the loo. Her older sister Van is there with her, holding a candle, on the lookout for spiders, snakes, and scorpions, while Bobo pees. Bobo is maybe five, and has woken her sister instead of her parents to accompany her, because waking her parents might mean being mistaken for a “terrorist” and getting shot.
In 1988, I lived near the Verrazano Bridge, and whenever the temperature was above freezing I’d walk down to the Narrows and read on one of the benches that ran along the bike path. Laurie Colwin’s HOME COOKING quickly became (and remains) one of my favorite bench reads—no surprise, considering I have loved every one of her novels. Her gift for creating authentic characters extends even to herself. At the time, I was 22 years-old and the kitchen in my New York City studio apartment was barely 3 feet wide. It didn’t have an oven or cabinets, and the refrigerator was dorm-sized (with no freezer); but this didn’t stop me from loving my little oasis, and cooking every day.