The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour – and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News (Sheila Weller, 2014)

news sorority

Why did you choose this book?

Well, I didn’t choose this one.  I’ve written before that as a librarian, it is sometimes my job to lead our book discussions.  I drew the straw for this month’s nonfiction pick.  I’m excited to announce, however, that I will be leading all of the fiction book discussions in 2016, so you can expect to see all kinds of books I wouldn’t necessarily choose for myself.  My reading preferences tend to be mystery (especially cozy), fantasy, or historical fiction.  A lot of the books we’ve chosen for our discussions next year are literary fiction.

What’s it about?

It is about women in TV news, as told through the stories of Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, and Christiane Amanpour.  This is only partly the case, as I will explain in the review portion of this post.

Categories?

Biography, other nonfiction

Other recommended reads?

Go for other biographies.  Weller has written another called Girls Like Us about 3 women in the music industry.  If you don’t care for this book, but like the format of a discussion through multiple figures, I’ll recommend one of the best books I read for a college course: The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans by Charles Royster.

Review

Many of the participants in our discussion and reviewers online felt that this book read more like tabloid gossip than narrative history/biography.  I’m not sure that bothered me as much as some of the other aspects.  It was a long (450 pages) book and a very dense read.  Weller quotes 200 interviews with “sources” in the news industry, and 35 (17%) of these sources chose to remain anonymous.  Some would say that encourages candid and honest responses, but I personally found that it undermined the author’s credibility and made for a confusing book as she referred multiple times to the same sources with varying physical and professional descriptive words.

I quickly became annoyed with the repeated use of words to characterize the women – specifically sophisticated and beautiful Diane, cute and perky Katie, and exotic Christiane.  Only Christiane emerges from the book as a likable figure.  There were also copious errors – for example, the author states that Guyana is an island (it’s not, it’s part of South America).  Bottom line: I’m not sure how much of the book is fact and how much is fiction and that’s never a good feeling when you pick something up from a nonfiction shelf.

Up next?

Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson

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The Jesus Cow (Michael Perry, 2015)

jesus cow

Why did you choose this book?

I read a synopsis and was immediately sold.

What’s it about?

Harley Jackson lives in the small town of Swivel, Wisconsin, farming and raising a few cattle.  One night, his dairy cow has a calf.  The calf bears a birthmark that is unmistakably Jesus (no more detail on the matter is ever provided).  Harley does his best to conceal this little one, but one day it wanders out the barn door, along with Harley’s secret.  Before he knows it, Harley has to decide whether to turn this happenstance into a moneymaking venture or whether to try and keep the crowds away on his own.

Categories

Humor, fiction

Other recommended reads?

If you like this, you’re going to love Garrison Keillor.  I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t care as much for his radio show, but I love his books, like Lake Wobegon Days.  The entire time I was reading this book, I just kept thinking that a fan of Garrison Keillor would love this.

Review

I loved the writing style and the way that Perry made the average details of small-town life believable and funny.  From the fact that the town is named Swivel to the crazy things that happen, this was an enjoyable romp from beginning to end.

Up next?

The News Sorority by Sheila Weller

A June of Ordinary Murders (Conor Brady, 2015)

a june of ordinary murders

Why did you choose this book?

This mystery is set in Dublin, Ireland.  I lived in that town in 2010 and thought it would be fun to revisit in literature.

What’s it about?

 In June 1887, Detective Sergeant Joe Swallow is tasked with investigating “ordinary” crimes (non-political).  The bodies of an adult and a child are found in Phoenix Park (where the zoo is today), with their faces mutilated beyond recognition.  Later in the week, Swallow is on the case of a woman’s body found in the canal with head trauma.  Are the two cases related?  And can Swallow dodge police department and society politics to get to the bottom of the crimes?

Categories

Police procedural, mystery, Irish culture, historical fiction

Other recommended reads?

This is the first book I’ve read that I would qualify as a police procedural.  If you enjoyed this, you’ll probably want to try some others.  Good authors include Karen Slaughter, JD Robb, and Michael Connelly.  Having not read any of these, please keep in mind that I’m just making a librarian’s educated guess.

Review

I didn’t recognize as much of Dublin in the book as I wanted to.  I loved the map at the beginning, but the narrative doesn’t focus on the locations much outside Dublin Castle, Phoenix Park, and Merrion Square (which was exciting because I worked there while I was in Ireland!).  I loved getting a glimpse into life in the 1880s.  I struggled to solve the crime, which I tend to think makes for a good mystery.  The prose was captivating and extremely well-written.  I’m hoping to read another novel by Brady soon!  I did think the pacing could have been slightly faster, but I also took nearly a month to read this book (on lunches at work, while dog-sitting, etc) so that could just be due to the time it took me to finish it.

Up next?

The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry

All the Stars in the Heavens (Adriana Trigiani, 2015)

all the stars in the heavens

Why did you choose this book?

I love the Golden Age of Hollywood and the movie stars from that time.  My personal favorites are Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant and David Niven.

What’s it about?

The novel primarily follows young starlet Loretta Young and her Italian-American secretary, Alda Ducci.  Alda is asked to leave the convent where she is a novice, and she begins working for Loretta.  Loretta and Alda head to Mount Baker to work on The Call of the Wild, a film based on the classic novel by Jack London.  Loretta falls for her co-star, Clark Gable, and discovers she’s pregnant with his child.

Categories

Hollywood, old films, historical fiction

Other recommended reads?

It’s a bit different, but David Niven wrote several books.  If you like this, you might also enjoy those.

Review

I have very mixed feelings about this book.  First, I think one of the hardest things is to write historical fiction about real people, as opposed to characters created by the author. Invariably, the characters on the page don’t mesh with the public figures each reader thinks they know.  I certainly know that was true in my case.  I loved the way Trigiani imbued Niven with a wickedly funny sense of humor and gave Loretta a degree of spunk, but I’m not sure I agreed with some of her other characterizations.  The other thing I found challenging was that Trigiani switched characters frequently – sometimes even in the course of one paragraph. She told the story from the perspective of a dozen or more characters, some of whom only got the leading role for a few pages.

I’m also not sure how closely the story plays to history.  Recent evidence indicates that Gable date-raped Young (see this article).  This novel, however, portrays Judy’s conception purely as an act of love.

As I said, I thought it was an enjoyable read, but I had a hard time reconciling my impressions of these famous figures with the characters in the book.  If you read it, let me know what you think.

Up next?

A June of Ordinary Murders by Conor Brady

The Scorpion Rules (Erin Bow, 2015)

scorpion rules

Why did you choose this book?

It was surrounded by a lot of book buzz.  Seriously, I heard about this everywhere.

What’s it about?

It’s about a dystopian future.  After the ice caps melted, cities flooded and there were serious water shortages.  The world dissolved into war.  To combat this, an AI named Talis took over and established Preceptures.  The ruling power of each country would send the heir to a Precepture, and the heir would be killed if the country went to war.  This system worked fairly well, until now…

Categories

Teen, dystopian

Other recommended reads?

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Final thoughts?

I loved Greta’s character – she was a strong female, but still had her faults.  Some aspects of the book were a bit on the brutal side.  I have never read a book with a strong robot element before, and I’m intrigued.  I loved the character of the Abbot.  Possible spoiler – an AI Class Two is a robot with a consciousness that was once embodied in a person.  Some of these transitions were successful (such as Talis and the Abbot) and some were not.  I want to know more about Talis and the Abbot before they became AI.  I cried at one point – let me know where this book hits you.  I have a feeling it has emotional plot points for everyone and they’re all in different places.  Here’s hoping for a sequel…

Up next?

All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani

Home is Burning: A Memoir (Dan Marshall, 2015)

home is burning

Why did you choose this book?

It relates to a situation I’ve been dealing with recently.  Read the next section and you’ll see what I mean.

What’s it about?

For most of Dan’s life, his mother has struggled with a severe form of lymphoma and has been considered “terminally ill.”  When Dan is 25, his dad is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and Dan has to move home to be a caregiver for a pair of terminally ill parents.  While he has siblings to help carry the burden, the struggle is intense, though Dan approaches it with a certain degree of humor.  This book intrigued me because I spent September 2013 to January 2015 as a caregiver for a terminally ill parent.

Categories

Biography/memoir, caregiving, nonfiction

Other recommended reads?

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (2014 National Book Award finalist, graphic novel)

Final thoughts?

A disclaimer: this book uses swear words prolifically (at least every other sentence) and is extremely negative about Mormons.  I have Mormon family members and would not recommend this book to them for that very reason.

I found it to be a truthful, heartfelt, and humorous memoir about life as a caregiver.  Marshall captures the exhausted but dedicated mentality of a caregiver and both the highs and lows, as well as the wacky situations in which we find ourselves.  That’s not to say that I agree with everything that happened in the book, but I found it to be an engaging and enjoyable read and would recommend it to people struggling with caregiving.  It’s a great book for letting you know you’re not alone.

Up next?

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads (Paul Theroux, 2015)

deep south

Why did you choose this book?

The answer to this question is twofold.  First, as part of our Reader’s Advisory group at work, I was required to read a nonfiction book published in either September or October of this year.  Second, I have read Theroux’s work in Smithsonian and really enjoyed his travel writing, so I thought I would read one of his books.

What’s it about?

Theroux is an accomplished travel writer, but had not traveled through the southern part of the United States.  He drove through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Arkansas, stopping in small towns and meeting folks along the way.  He recounts his adventures as well as the landscape and personalities he encounters over the course of four roadtrips (one for each season of the year).

Categories

Armchair travel, nonfiction

Other recommended reads?

I haven’t read much armchair travel literature, but Theroux has written a dozen other travel books, as well as plenty of fiction.  I’ve also read Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams, and really enjoyed it, though it is half travel and half history.

Final thoughts?

There were things I loved about this book, and others I didn’t.  I love Theroux’s writing style, particularly this quote about the Ozarks: “The Ozarks are mountains in the Deep South sense of the word, not pyramidal peaks or potential ski slopes or alpine crags, but irregular elevations, a succession of low, deep green ridges, a sea of long, lumpy hills to the horizon in a dramatic panorama.  That there is an identifiable and sundown-framed horizon in their midst gives the Ozarks their uniqueness: mountains that allow a great, gaudy, and effulgent sunset.  No single Ozarkian topographical feature is apparent, but the whole of it – the broad shifting vista of elongated hills – appears like flattened and thickly forested mesas.  And the view is especially moving because it seems unpeopled, the isolated communities hidden in hollows and behind the slopes, some of which are bunchy with old-growth trees, still remote and beautiful (page 409).”  I was born in the Ozarks and that language, and the landscape, speak to my soul.

The books was 440 pages long, which I felt was stretching my attention span to the max.  I probably would have liked the book even more had it been closer to 350 or even 300 pages in length.  I also failed to understand Theroux’s definition of Deep South.  To me, the Deep South should include Texas and Louisiana and possibly even South Carolina.  I also struggled to remember characters between sections.  Theroux revisits some of the same people on each seasonal trip and I sometimes had difficulty remembering what had happened with each person in the previous trip, or even who they were.

I loved his trip to the grocery store where the Emmett Till situation came into being.  This is the only book I’ve ever seen that includes a picture of that store.  I found it very moving.  Overall, I thought it was a good travel read.

Up next?

Home is Burning: A Memoir by Dan Marshall