Book Review: Obama’s 8-Year Presidency In His Words

Book Review: Obama’s 8-Year Presidency In His Words

Exhaustive, but not exhausting. That is how I would sum up A Promised Land (Crown, 2020) by Barack Obama.

It’s one thing to live through history, it’s another to have the former president of the United States give his unabridged take on events.

For the most part, this is more of a political book than a personal one. Still, there are personal moments in it.

It’s going to take you a while to read or listen to. It is so long—768 pages. I got it as an audio book from the library. My 21-day rental was not long enough to hear it all, so I listened to it with a gap. Not a problem. It gave me time to digest some of it before finishing it by the next deadline. Obama reads the book, making it even more captivating.

I kept wanting to listen because there was such a depth to the stories, to the news of the time that either I had forgotten or never knew about or it wasn’t shared in the moment.

I think most people can agree the challenges of being president are daunting. Obama shares with his readers (and listeners) what it was like to make the tough decisions. He touts his successes, is willing to admit to failures, and shares insecurities and doubt. It’s also about so many of the people on both sides of the aisle who he was interacting with regularly.

If seemed like it was honest retelling of events. It didn’t sound like he was trying to rewrite history in his favor, as a memoir can often be.

A lot happened in those eight years of his presidency. It was educational to relive what he wanted to share and have it put in context.

I was fascinated by this book.

While it will be seen as partisan based on whose memoir this is, it would probably be more educational for those who didn’t vote for him to read this book in order to understand Obama’s choices and thinking.

Book Review: Billie Jean King’s life in her words

Book Review: Billie Jean King’s life in her words

While I knew a lot about Billie Jean King before I read her autobiography, there were plenty of new nuggets in this more than 400-page book.

All In (Alfred A. Knopf, 2021) is definitely comprehensive. It’s so much more than tennis, though.

When President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, he said it was for “all the off-the-court stuff.” It proves how multidimensional King is. She is still a huge advocate for women’s rights as well as the LGBTQ+ community.

King seems to leave no relevant topic untouched. The book is entertaining, enlightening and thought provoking. She doesn’t shy away from the difficulties the women had in achieving equality with the men. She doesn’t shy away from the self-conflict she had in defining her sexuality.

There is a depth to this book, which is why it’s so long.

I can see it being of interest to people who are not tennis fans, but doubt they will read it. There is just so much tennis—which as a fan and a player—was wonderful.

I have been a fan of King’s for decades. My junior racket was a Billie Jean King autograph. I wish I still had that wood stick.

When the book first came out last year the Los Angeles Times book club hosted her, which I listened to. It was great to hear her talk and not merely read her words.

King really is a living legend.

Book Review: An impactful story on immigration

Book Review: An impactful story on immigration

The American Dream seems like a pretty simple concept. We have this belief in the United States that if you work hard, your life will be on an economic upward trajectory that is likely to include a home, enough food and plenty of happiness.

It’s this dream that leads so many people—legally and illegally—to the United States.

“The Tortilla Curtain” (Penguin Publishing Group, 1996) by T.C. Boyle is as relevant today as when he wrote it.

It’s the story of the lives of Candido and America, a couple who crossed the border illegally with the desire to have a better life than the one they came from. It’s also about Delaney and Kyra, another couple, who are rather liberally minded.

The four are living in the canyons of Southern California, but only the natives have a conventional home.

All four lives intersect in ways they did not expect nor did they necessarily want. These interactions and their introspection keep the reader captivated. Boyle does a great job of not taking sides with one character to make that person the protagonist.

I could tell you, but I won’t, who I think was the better person of the four.

This novel could easily have been non-fiction, which is why it is so gripping. It’s not just a story of four lives. Boyle makes the reader think, to examine what she might do in the situation of each of the main characters.

It proves that life is neither black nor white; it’s a deep shade of gray that requires each of us to dig deeper for more understanding and less judgment.

Book Review: ‘Log from the Sea of Cortez’ stands test of time

Book Review: ‘Log from the Sea of Cortez’ stands test of time

I would be hard-pressed to put John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez (The Viking Press, 1951) into one genre. This, in part, it what is so captivating about the book.

This classic by the renowned author is definitely largely scientific. After all, it’s about the expedition to collect marine animals from the Sea of Cortez. Steinbeck’s friend marine biologist Ed Ricketts was the lead scientist aboard the vessel.

The descriptions of the specimens collected were both interesting and a bit too much science for my liking. Fortunately, the team’s approach to collecting them, preserving and studying them is mostly informative and entertaining.

This book is also a bit of a travelogue. Details of the land, the water, the people, the scenery were all vivid. Even so, in some ways it was hard to recognize the descriptions of the places in Baja that they visited. After all, they were there in 1940—long before much of the region became the tourist destination it is today.

This in turn made the book part historical.

It is definitely philosophical. That is the part I was not expecting. It’s also what gives it depth and connects all the tangents.

Steinbeck without question is an incredible storyteller. That is why this tale remains worthy all these decades later.

Book Review: ‘Women in Sunlight’ a delightful escape

Book Review: ‘Women in Sunlight’ a delightful escape

I’m in Italy sitting in a piazza, people watching as I eat my decadent gelato dreaming about what delightful food will grace my plate at the next meal.

Oh, the power of books.

Women in Sunlight (Penguin Random House, 2018), a novel by Frances Mayes, was the perfect trip I needed in December. (She also wrote Under the Tuscan Sun.) Listening to the book transported me, got me out of the gray, dreariness of Northern California, and into a world I’ve often dreamed about. A summer in Tuscany to write, eat incredible food, and drink luscious wine, well, it’s been on the to-do list longer than I’d like to admit. The book, unbeknownst to me at the start, attempted to satiate this dream of mine and stirred a renewed desire to make it come true.

It’s about four women from the United States who find themselves in Italy for various reasons. Three new friends travel there, having leased a house for a year. The other has lived there for 12 years.

Maybe it was relatable because the women are close to my age; not something one often finds in novels.

The book is about their lives in both countries, their friendships, and how life continues on after death and divorce. While this may seem like a simple premise for a book, we all know life is not simple. We are thrown curve balls that nearly wound us and others that we hit out of the park. Life is no different for these women and the people in their lives.

Plus, there are so many other characters to become acquainted with. While there is a large a entourage, it is not difficult to keep track of everyone.

Mayes is such a talented writer. Her descriptions riveting to the point it’s like you can smell and taste the food she describes, or clearly see whatever she recounts—whether it’s the scenery, the people, the art, even the joys and sadness of the people who soon feel like friends.

It’s one of those rare times I didn’t want the book to end, and I where I would most definitely like to indulge in the next chapter, so to speak, of their lives.

Book Review: Learning to belong in ‘Braving the Wilderness’

Book Review: Learning to belong in ‘Braving the Wilderness’

Belonging. There can so much wrapped up in that one word. With how divided our society has become, it seems like belonging can be even harder today.

Brené Brown tackles this concept in her book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (Random House, 2017).

Brown is a professor, best-selling author, lecturer and podcast host.

The main sentiment was, “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

Being who we are can be difficult when what we want is to belong. But as Brown points out, there is a huge difference between belonging and fitting in. We belong when people accept us for who we are; we fit in when we adapt to someone else’s norms or to what a group finds acceptable.

Much of what is in the book is practical information that isn’t necessarily earth shaking. What she has done, though, is pull research together, give real life examples, and present a case for the importance of belonging.

First you have to be belong to yourself. That is what can be so challenging.

I listened to the book, which seemed to be more powerful than if I had read it. I think this is because Brown did the reading, so it was as though she was talking to me. It also afforded me the opportunity to rewind if I wanted to hear it again. Of course reading something you can reread it. For me, though, hearing her words proved to be powerful.

Book Review: Learning about more than 100 gutsy women

Book Review: Learning about more than 100 gutsy women

I can only imagine what the conversations must have been like when it came to deciding who would be included in the book and who would be left for volume two, assuming that is ever written.

The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience (Simon & Schuster, 2019) is a narrative about well more than 100 women. Some are names most people will recognize such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Sally Ride, Anne Frank, Billie Jean King. Some are lesser known and others I had never heard of before.

That is in large part why the authors wrote the book—to give a voice to women who we should all know about, but who never made it into history books or headlines. Some are dead, some are young. Both sides of the political aisle are represented.

Chapters categorize these women: Early Inspirations, Education Pioneers, Earth Defenders, Explorers and Inventors, Healers, Athletes, Advocates and Activists, Storytellers, Elected Leaders, Groundbreakers, and Women’s Rights Champions.

In many ways they all fit in the category of “women’s rights champions.” It’s not that every woman had that as a goal. But being successful in a man’s world often means a champion for women. They are all truly gutsy.

I learned so much in these 464 pages. For some of these women many books have been written about them already, or they have shared their own story. What Gutsy Women does is give highlights, insight and context, and even an introduction to people I would like to know more about.

And for the women who the authors know personally or who had an impact on their lives, this is shared.

Many will already know who the authors are, but I left that until now so that would not influence your opinion of the book. The authors are Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton.

Book Review: ‘Zookeeper’s Wife’ reveals realities of Nazi occupation

Book Review: ‘Zookeeper’s Wife’ reveals realities of Nazi occupation

Plenty of stories have been told about the heroic efforts of non-Jewish people helping out those who were the targets of Nazis during World War II. “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017) offers the unique perspective of a couple who owned the zoo in Warsaw, Poland.

Author Diane Ackerman uses Antonina Zabinski’s diary to piece together what life was like at the zoo during the German occupation of Poland. With this being a true story, it was even more compelling to read.

Most of the animals were killed, sent away or essentially stolen. It would be hard to justify feeding them when food for humans was scarce. There were other complexities as well that involved the Germans wanting to have superior animals, just like they wanted to create what they deemed to be a superior race of humans.

Animal cages became places for humans to hideout. Silence was a necessity so as not to tip off the soldiers who were nearby. The lengths the couple went to to disguise their hideout are told in a captivating manner.

The intricacies of the underground world in Warsaw are told in some detail, which shows the lengths people went to to help others. Those who helped the Jews had everything to lose. But humanity had everything to gain, which is why to me these people are the true definition of hero.

Maybe I needed to read this book now because it’s important to remember there are plenty of good reasons to stand up to the government, to fight for justice, to defend those who cannot defend themselves.

By the time Warsaw was liberated, the Zabinskis had helped more than 300 people.

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