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: Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition, by Charles Eisenstein

Sacred Economics

Title: Sacred Economics: Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition
Author: Charles Eisenstein
Genre: Non-Fiction
Age Range: Adults
Rating:  3.5 stars
Versions Available: eBook, paperback

How come doing the right thing for the environment is often not the smart economic choice? Why does it feel like most people are falling further and further behind economically, despite machines doing much of the hard labor these days? Is there another economic system that would allow people to live their values? Charles Eisenstein asks and attempts to answers these questions in his intriguing book, Sacred Economics.

Eisenstein assumes his reader knows nothing about economics and patiently explains the history of money and how exactly our current economic situation works—pointing out both the value of this system and the many problems and side effects it causes. He goes over what we’ve been taught are the “rules” of economics and neatly points out, one by one, how these “rules” aren’t real. They’re all made up and are only true because we as a society let them be true.

Eisenstein then focuses on the problem with interest-based loans and points out how this particular “rule” of always having to get bigger harms our society and has caused much of the inequality we have today. He explains in great detail how interest-based loans are the driving force behind climate change, lower worker wages, and the general hamster-wheel life most people feel trapped by.

Early on in the book Eisenstein makes a promise to the reader when he says, “Long ago I grew tired of reading books that criticized some aspect of our society without offering a positive alternative. Then I grew tired of books that offered a positive alternative that seemed impossible to reach: ‘We must reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent.’ Then I grew tired of books that offered a plausible means of reaching it but did not describe what I personally, could do it create it.”

Does Eisenstein make good on his promise? Yes and no. He does lay out a plan for realigning our economic system so it works better for most people. Much of his plan has to do with getting rid of interest, putting some kind of expiration date on money to deter hoarding, and tying the value of money to the health of the earth, rather than the gold standard. He goes through each point carefully, explaining how the current system works, and what kind of new system might take its place.

While the new ideas are intriguing and worth reading about, Eisenstein does not concretely describe how his most intriguing idea—tying the value of money to the health of the earth—would work in concrete terms. By the end of the book I did not feel like I knew exactly what my role was in changing things either. I did however have a much better understanding of how money works and why our current economic system works so poorly. I was also introduced to some very cool ideas about how we as a society might change things, which for me was worth the time it took to read the book.

Book Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet, Almost, by Felicia Day

FD pic

Title: You’re Never Weird on the Internet, Almost
Author: Felicia Day
Genre: Memoir
Age Range: Adults and Teens
Rating: 5 stars (I loved this book!)
Versions Available: Audiobook, eBook, Hardcover

 

I’ve been a fan of Felicia Day since 2008 when I watched her play Penny in Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. Then a friend told me Day’s own Internet show, The Guild, inspired Joss Whedon to make Dr. Horrible, so I watched all six seasons of this fun show on Netflix.

The Guild, written and produced by Felicia Day, is about a group of World of Warcraft-like gamers who end up meeting in person. The group represents the variety of computer gamers that exist—slacker teenagers, bored stay-at-home moms, penny-pinching middle aged men, socially challenged twenty-something guys, and sharp-tongued college  students. It’s available to watch instantly on Netflix.

I’m also a frequent watcher of Day’s Vaginal Fantasy Romance Book Club on YouTube—where she and four friends discuss speculative fiction and historical romance novels that have a feminist bent. Plus, though I stopped watching Supernatural regularly after season six, I always watched the two Supernatural episodes she appeared in each season, as quirky computer hacker Charlie, .

Day writes about her unusual childhood being homeschooled in the south– “for hippy, not Jesus reasons”, how she got a full scholarship to study violin and math at the University of Texas at sixteen, how she built her acting career after deciding she didn’t want to be a professional musician, and how she ended up finding a more fulfilling career on the Internet. Her book was utterly charming and inspiring for me as a writer.

Day is very honest about her struggles with perfectionism, procrastination, and her lack of confidence. Her homeschooling childhood is fascinating, but the best parts of the book, for me, were the details of how a writing class, and then a critique group, pressured her into giving up her Internet gaming addiction and take the plunge into writing. Her group then helped her produced her own TV pilot. The details of how The Guild became an Internet success are interesting, funny, messy and so real.

Day follows these exciting chapters with several soul-searching chapters on dealing with the pressures of success in an honest reassuring manner. Success is one of my biggest nightmares and so it was especially comforting to read about Day’s struggles and triumphs dealing with her own demons and health issues. Spoiler alert: She even had her own thyroid health problems!

The last chapter on Gamegate is a good summary of the nightmarish attack on Internet  women. Day is honest about how hesitant she was to speak out about these attacks and why. Her story of what happened when she did finally speak out is harrowing but inspiring. Like other women on the Internet, she’s come to terms with how thick-skinned women need be, and has found her own way to be honest and real with the public, while at the same time protecting herself. It’s reassuring, inspiring stuff!

Day reads the audiobook herself, which is like having your coolest friend tell you all about her Hollywood/ Internet adventures while you do the dishes or clean the house. I highly recommend this book for anyone who writes, likes gaming, enjoys popular culture, or just likes a good memoir.