The Historic Los Angeles Library Fire Sparks a Bigger Story: What Libraries Are to Us

Book review: The Library Book, by Susan Orlean All the things that are wrong in the world seem conquered by a library’s simple unspoken promise: Here is my story, please listen; here I am, please tell me your story. Journalist and author Susan Orlean began her latest book by investigating the devastating 1986 fire at Central Library in Los Angeles. By the time the fire was … Continue reading The Historic Los Angeles Library Fire Sparks a Bigger Story: What Libraries Are to Us

Elegies for the Dead She’s Known

Book review: The Baltimore Book of the Dead, by Marion Winik Book Depository People do not pass away. / They die / and then they stay. Poet and author Marion Winik opens this second volume of creative short elegies to departed people she’s known, tinged with personal memoir, with those lines from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Voices in the Air”. I couldn’t imagine a more fitting … Continue reading Elegies for the Dead She’s Known

Writing Her Grandparents’ Lives and a Memoir of Childhood

Book review: On Sunset, by Kathryn Harrison Never mind that we live in Los Angeles and that I was born in 1961; my childhood belongs to my mother’s parents, who, in the way of old people, have returned themselves to their pasts, taking me along. Author Kathryn Harrison writes a memoir of a slice of her childhood, a well-adjusted one considering some of the troubling … Continue reading Writing Her Grandparents’ Lives and a Memoir of Childhood

Memoir Essays of Abuse, Upbringing and Mental Illness from an Indigenous Voice

Book review: Heart Berries, by Terese Marie Mailhot I avoid the mysticism of my culture. My people know there is a true mechanism that runs through us. Stars were people in our continuum. Mountains were stories before they were mountains. Things were created by story. The words were conjurers, and ideas were our mothers. Terese Marie Mailhot is a woman of the First Nations in … Continue reading Memoir Essays of Abuse, Upbringing and Mental Illness from an Indigenous Voice

Undercover Reporting and the Disturbing History of For-Profit Prisons in America

Book review: American Prison, by Shane Bauer The United States imprisons a higher portion of its population than any country in the world. In 2017 we had 2.2 million people in prisons and jails, a 500 percent increase over the last forty years. We now have almost 5 percent of the world’s population and nearly a quarter of its prisoners. This book focuses on one … Continue reading Undercover Reporting and the Disturbing History of For-Profit Prisons in America

The Working Poor of the Heartland

Book review: Heartland, by Sarah Smarsh Journalist Sarah Smarsh is a fifth generation Kansan who grew up with her family life centered around a wheat farm in the countryside, with Wichita being the closest big city. In her memoir, she chronicles generations of her family, particularly the strong but troubled women in her lineage, and puts their struggles and choices into clear economic and cultural context. … Continue reading The Working Poor of the Heartland

The Pseudoscience of Personality Typing and its Eccentric Mother-Daughter Developers

Book review: The Personality Brokers, by Merve Emre Only the smallest fraction of those who encountered the indicator knew anything about Isabel, Katharine, or the origins of type. If asked about the indicator’s provenance, most people would have assumed that Myers and Briggs were the last names of two collaborating psychologists – two men, naturally… Almost everyone’s familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality indicator, a personality … Continue reading The Pseudoscience of Personality Typing and its Eccentric Mother-Daughter Developers

An Atlantic Shipwreck Seen Through its Sole Survivor

Book review: Adrift, by Brian Murphy with Toula Vlahou Adrift tells the story of the packet ship John Rutledge, which in 1856 crossed the North Atlantic from Liverpool to New York with a cargo consisting mostly of mail and around 100 passengers, many of them emigrating from Ireland. The ship navigated turbulent winter conditions before ultimately hitting an iceberg somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland, and … Continue reading An Atlantic Shipwreck Seen Through its Sole Survivor

Culinary Visits with Literary Mentors

Book review: The Traveling Feast, by Rick Bass I decided to take a break from writing and go on an extended pilgrimage. I set out traveling the country (and in one case Europe) to visit writers who were mostly a generation older than I am, the ones who helped me become a writer trained outside a university. Sometimes they helped me by reading what I’d … Continue reading Culinary Visits with Literary Mentors

Coming of Age in Cold War America

Book review: A Girl’s Guide to Missiles, by Karen Piper Karen Piper, a professor of literature and geology and author of several books on environmental issues, writes a personal memoir about her life, including scenes from her childhood growing up in the 1970s in China Lake, a secretive missile range in the Mojave Desert. Her narrative as she walks readers through her life folds in … Continue reading Coming of Age in Cold War America

The Mystery of a Clairvoyant and a Con

Book review: A Deal with the Devil, by Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken We knew that many people thought of all psychics as frauds. We’d heard plenty of horror stories about people who lost thousands of dollars to storefront psychics or psychic hotlines. But we had never heard of a psychic scam quite like this one, in which fraudsters used the mail to pinpoint vulnerable targets. … Continue reading The Mystery of a Clairvoyant and a Con

Life After Liquor: Essays On Quitting Drinking

Book review: Nothing Good Can Come from This, by Kristi Coulter Booze is the oil in our motors, the thing that keeps us purring when we should be making other kinds of noise. Kristi Coulter’s essay “Enjoli”, named after a perfume ad indicating women should be able to work and still keep it sexy for their men, got a lot of traction online and led to … Continue reading Life After Liquor: Essays On Quitting Drinking