My 5 Favorite 2019 NonFiction Reads, Part 2

Here are my top two favorite nonfiction reads from 2019. Last week I posted my fifth, fourth and third favorite nonfiction reads, which you can check out here.

2. Embrace Your Weird: Face Your Fears And Unleash Creativity
by Felicia Day

What It’s About:
This book of creative exercises is like the quirky, more whimsical cousin of The Artist’s Way. The goal of Embrace Your Weird is to help you become less critical of yourself so you can creative the projects you want— whether that be writing, painting, or making sculptures in toothpicks.

The exercises start out with the intent of proving to you why you should totally embrace your creativity, move on to building up your “hero self”, arm you with techniques to face your demons, then help you brainstorm allies for your journey.

Felicia Day is the writer/ producer of the Netflix series, The Guild, as well as the creator of many online endeavors. I reviewed and loved her memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), which tells the story her unique upbringing being homeschooled (for “hippy reasons”), going to college at sixteen, majoring in mathematics and violin at the University of Texas, then becoming an actor and writer in Los Angeles. She’s also known for playing quirky roles like Vi in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Codex in The Guild, Penny in Doctor Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, Charlie in Supernatural, and Poppy in The Magicians.

What I Liked:
There’s so much to like here. Felicia Day is whimsical and fun, yet also thorough and organized. It took me three months to do all the exercises, and at the end I felt more playful about my writing.

What I Learned:
I came away from this book with a better understanding the need for play and creativity in my life.

Audiobook Details:
I listened to the audiobook version and used the PDF for the exercises because I love Felicia Day’s quirky style of narrating.

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1. Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties
by Dianne Lake and Deborah Herman

What It’s About:
This is the story of the “Manson Family” from the point of view of Dianne Lake— who joined the Manson family when she was just fourteen years old. She was not present at any of the murders but was still able to testify against the family at the trials.

What I Liked About It:
I had always avoided books about Charles Manson because I am tired of focusing on supposed “genius” sociopathic men, so I was delighted to find this story told from the youngest woman in the family.

The first half of the book is about Dianne’s life growing up and the second half is about her time in the Manson family. While I chose the book for the second half, the first half where she explains how her family went from a white-bread middle class family in suburban Minnesota to counterculture hippies living on a commune in California was just as fascinating.

Dianne paints a vivid picture of her father’s growing dissatisfaction with the repression of the 1950s, and how his fascination with Jack Kerouac (and other Beat Generation writers) were the catalyst for her family’s slow absorption into the 1960s counterculture. Her description of 1960s counterculture shows both the advantages and disadvantages of their utopian beliefs. I felt like I had time traveled to the 1960s and was living right along with her.

What I Learned:
Lake describes Manson as someone who was a master at manipulating people. Despite being basically illiterate, he had used his prison time to educated himself. Manson took classes in prison on Dale Carenigie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People techniques, as well as getting an education from fellow inmates on how to be a highly successful pimp. He also used his time in prison to learn to move every muscle on his face independently so he had full control over his facial expressions and could change the sound of his voice and dialect, too, in order to mirror whoever he was talking with.

However, Dianne’s story makes clear that while Manson did have exceptional people skills— that he used for self-serving purposes— the main reason that he was able to gain the loyalty from the women in his self-made family was because of the misogynist elements of the 1960s that caused so many women to have no one else to count on. Manson’s family welcomed Dianne Lake with open arms, which was far more than her own family did. By the time the Manson family got darker— after Manson became more and more obsessed with his racist fantasies about the end of the world— Diane was trapped with no one else to turn to.

Audiobook Details:
The audio version is narrated by Dianne herself. Some Audible reviewers complained about Dianne’s narration but I thought it worked well. She comes across as an earnest, authentic teller of her own story.

My 5 Favorite 2019 NonFiction Reads, Part 1

I’m listing my favorite top five nonfiction reads in reverse order in two parts. This week I’ll write about books five, four and three. Next week I’ll write about my top two favorite 2019 nonfiction reads.

I almost always prefer the audio version of a book. I grew up in a household where the TV was on a lot, so I have better listening comprehension than print comprehension. It’s also easier to multitask while reading, which means it’s easier to find the time to read more.

5. The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge
by Beatrice Chestnut

What It’s About:
The Enneagram is a personality system like Myers-Briggs. While the Myers-Briggs system deals with a person’s cognitive processing preferences (how they take in and use information), the Enneagram deals with how you defend yourself from your childhood wounds.

The Enneagram system uses nine basics types, those types can further be broken into three subtypes per type, for a total of 27 different subtypes.

What I Learned:
Regardless of how ideal or traumatic your childhood was, you have emotional wounds that formed your own unique defenses for dealing with the world. The defense system you created in childhood forms the basis of how you interact with the world as an adult.

This is really good system for getting information about your blindspots in dealing with others, and using that information to grow in ways that help you better cope with life.

What I Liked About It:
The Enneagram is also a fantastic tool for writers because it provides a template for 27 different character wounds that you can then customize with individual details and variability to build your characters’ story arcs.

This is also a good tool for understanding your own parents since their Enneagram personality type influenced your personality, too.

Finding out my dad is a type seven helped me understand why most people think my viewpoint is so optimistic, when I tend to think of myself as the cynic of the family. Turns out my dad is the most optimistic of all 27 subtypes.

Audiobook Details:
This is one of those books where having the printed version might actually be more useful, because I found myself wanting to go back over the material again and again.

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4. Blowout

by Rachel Maddow

What It’s About:
The book focuses on three key stories: fracking in Oklahoma, the oil industry’s history and record of accidents and greed, and Russia’s gas and oil history and current situation.

The three issues tie together to make the three big points of Maddow’s thesis:
1) the oil and gas industry has a record of incompetence and has almost no plan to deal with their inevitable the accidents,

2) life gets worse for the majority of citizens of a state or country that discovers oil, while a tiny subset becomes enormously wealthy,

3) Russia’s extreme mafia-like corruption has strangled its business sectors, therefore oil and gas is its only economically viable sector.

What I Learned:
The Russia information is especially important for understanding the GOP-Ukrainian story and their conspiracy theories about Ukraine.

Oil and gas are Russian’s only functional industries. But because of their corruption and incompetence, they lack the equipment or technical know-how to drill in their oil-rich arctic regions. Since Putin got caught meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections, U.S. companies are blocked from working with Russia to provide equipment and technical knowledge. So Putin is pretty desperate to get those sanctions removed. Plus, Putin would love to have control over Ukraine’s gas companies.

What I liked About It:
Rachel starts the book much like she starts her show, laying out the history and cast of characters the listener needs to know before presenting the evidence needed to make her case. Like with her show, she uses story to draw the listener in, making you want to find out what this seemingly unrelated anecdote has to do with whatever explosive current event is going on. Because Rachel is a master storyteller, at the end all the pieces click in place and dozens of seemingly unrelated parts suddenly paint a much bigger coherent picture.

Audiobook Details:
If you are a Rachel Maddow fan you’ll love the audiobook because it’s like listening to an extended version of her show.

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3. Shrill
By Lindy West


What It’s About:
Lindy West is a Seattle based comedy writer, feminist, and fat woman (her words) who tells her life’s story in a series of think pieces. She talks about how fat shaming convinced her that being quiet and shy was the safest path as a kid, then follows her journey of finding her voice through her love of comedy, and finally how she learned to use her voice to advocate for body acceptance and feminist issues.

What I Liked:
Lindy has a unique voice that manages to be insightful, compassionate and funny all at once.

What I Learned:
I started reading Lindy West when she wrote for Jezebel, but had no idea that she used to write for Seattle’s The Stranger with Dan Savage as her boss. Or that she actually schooled Dan about why fat shaming doesn’t work.

I also learned she made a TV show about her life based on this book. It’s also called Shrill, has two seasons on Hulu, and is just as delightful as the book.

Audiobook Details:
I love listening to audiobook memoirs because it’s like having a cool, funny friend tell you their life story. Lindy’s compassion really comes through in the audio, too.

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Next Week: My top two 2019 non-fiction reads

Book Review for: Take Joy

Take Joy

Title: Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide To Loving The Craft
Author: Jane Yolen
Genre: Non-Fiction, Craft Book on Writing
Age Range: Adults and Teens
Rating: 5 stars (One of my new favorite writing books)
Versions Available: Paperback (New and Used)

 

Accomplished writer Jane Yolen applies the same magic she used to turn her classic picture book, Owl Moon, from a simple story about a child and her father going out to look for owls into a magical poetic journey. In Take Joy, Yolen creates a craft book that inspires the reader to see the charm and adventure of writing.

Yolen, a prolific writer of novels, picture books, and essays, sees writing as a joyful activity, rather than a struggle. While I do at times struggle with my writing, the more I read Yolen’s comforting, optimistic ideas, the more I got excited about my own work.

Yolen’s writing advice is not a Mary Sunshine take on writing. She is well aware that all is not rosy in the writing world, but she also delights in creating stories and worlds. The more I read about her approach to writing, the more I relished my own writing time.

Yolen combines her enchanting slant on writing with an organized, common sense structure. There is a chapter on each aspect of writing. I especially liked the chapters on gathering ideas, researching a topic, choosing a point of view, and dealing with rejection. She combines specific, concrete advice on each of these subjects with her own special blend of inspiration, and gave me lots of new ideas on how to approach my own projects.

There’s no eBook version of Take Joy— my favorite way to read books—so I had to order a paperback copy through Amazon.  This made me realize that I expect to receive a book instantly now that eBooks exist.  The added wait was well worth it though. Now I have a paper copy full of penciled underlines to pick up and read anytime I need writing inspiration.

Book Review for: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Image- Coldtown

Title: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Author: Holly Black

Targeted Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction/ Fantasy

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

 

Does the world need another young adult vampire novel? After reading, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, I’m happy to say, yes, we do, if Holly Black is going to write it.

When seventeen-year-old Tana wakes up at a sundown party, she realizes the terrible truth; she and her ex-boyfriend, Aiden, are the only ones to survive a vampire attack and they’ve both probably been scratched or bitten. Tana lives in a world where vampirism is caused by a virus and transmitted by scratches or bites. An infected human can get rid of the virus if the patient doesn’t drink human blood for 88 days, which means being locked up away from other humans. There are whole quarantined cities, called Coldtowns, throughout the country where the infected are sent to live.

Tana understands the danger of this disease and still bares the physical scars from it.  When she was six years old her father locked her mother in the basement, in a misguided attempt to treat his wife at home. Tana watched as her mother went from a caring parent to a manipulative user who would do anything to get a drink of blood.

Rather than risk harming others, Tana decides to take herself, Aiden, and the good-looking mysterious vampire boy chained to the bed, to Coldtown. No one leaves Coldtown but Tana’s pretty sure the vampire she’s going to turn in to to the Coldtown authorities is her key to getting out.

Holly Black takes the vampire mythology and manages to tell it from a fresh gritty angle with the quarantined Coldtowns— part MTV reality show, part cold war Berlin, and part prison. In addition to levelheaded Tana, Black populates the book with colorful characters, like Winter and Midnight, twin bloggers hitchhiking their way to Coldtown to chase their dream of becoming vampires, and Gavriel, the beautiful centuries-old vampire with a secret mission.