Tag: memoir

Oct 11

Educated by Tara Westover

Audio Books, Memoirs, Non Fiction 6

Hi Ho, Bookworms!

I keep thinking, “dang I should write about some books!” But then I get overwhelmed by the VAST backlog of excellent books I’ve read and not written about and I don’t know where to start. I just end up going on Twitter and talking about how much I love Sesame Street, which isn’t a thing anyone is interested in, really. Except Sammers, obviously. He’s a big fan of Elmo and Abby Cadabby. Yeah, yeah, I know screen time and babies, but it’s EDUCATIONAL. Which brings me to the actual book I want to talk to y’all about today: Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. (Look at that segue. I’m a walking Dad Joke.)

I don’t remember where I first heard about this book but I think what finally pushed it high enough on my TBR to actually read it was Alice and Kim’s excellent podcast. Admittedly I gravitate toward fiction as a general rule, but the premise of this sounded too good to pass up. Tara Westover wrote a memoir about her experiences growing up among survivalists in rural Idaho. She never attended traditional school, and spent her days prepping for the end of days or assisting her parents in their work. Her father ran a metal salvage junkyard among other odd jobs, her mother was a midwife and herbalist. Her father was exceptionally fearful of the medical establishment, so her mother’s herbs served the family’s medical needs for everything from colds to concussions. Hard to believe a child from this background would end up earning a PhD from Cambridge, but that’s exactly what happened.

The abstract sounds fascinating, doesn’t it? And yet it doesn’t describe how completely BANANAPANTS this book was. I realize that the whole point of the book was how Westover managed to go from absolutely no formal (or informal, really) educational instruction to a friggin PhD, but I have to admit to being sidetracked by the family’s response to medical emergencies. In fact, I tweeted some of my reactions whilst listening to the audiobook:

For some reason I feel the need to clean up my language knowing my son’s grandparents may read this.

Uh, spoiler alert?

As you can see, I was rather in my feelings about this medical situation. Here’s the thing. I know the medical establishment is not without fault, and I think that there are homeopathic treatments that are very effective that get overlooked in favor of pharmaceuticals. Essential oils may very well help with a myriad of things from headaches to teething to allergy relief. Just, you know, don’t rely on them to cure a traumatic brain injury, third degree burns, or replace vaccinations. And for the love. If you see exposed brain tissue, CALL 911.

I highly recommend this book. The closest read-alike I can come up with is The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (which is also excellent, review here), so if you enjoyed that? Educated is for you.


*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I may receive a small commission.*




Mar 04

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by Kim Barker

Memoirs, Non Fiction 9

Howdy Howdy Bookworms!

You know what’s super inconvenient? Books with the same title as other books. Take for example, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. About a year ago I read a book by this title which was written by David Shafer. It was pretty weird (and not my favorite, to be honest, here’s the review.) Of course, it was quirky and partially set in the Middle East with at least one female protagonist, so when I saw that Tina Fey had a movie coming out called Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, I assumed it was based on Shafer’s book. I literally looked at my husband when I saw the first preview and was like “Uh… They seem to have taken a lot of liberties…” Turns out, I was wrong. Well, probably not about the liberties, because you know how Hollywood is, but it’s definitely not based on the aforementioned novel. I know this because I was recently contacted by the publisher of the book the movie is ACTUALLY based on. It is also called Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, BUT it was originally published as The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s by Kim Barker, a foreign correspondent who worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the early 2000s. Are you confused yet? I sort of am. Whew. *As I mentioned already, I received a complimentary copy of this book for review consideration. I’m not good at lying, so you don’t need to worry about compromised integrity. I’m like… the Pinocchio of book reviews. I try to lie and everyone can tell. It’s just not worth the effort.*

whiskeytangofoxtrotWhiskey Tango Foxtrot
AKA The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan is Kim Barker’s memoir based on her years working as a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. It’s a delicious “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” sort of book. It contains the things you might expect from a war correspondent’s memoir. I mean, there’s plenty of sadness and danger and tragedy, but Kim Barker’s also got a dark sense of humor about her, which is just the sort of thing I admire in a writer. Barker shares not just the news she covered, but the news behind the news. All the dishy side notes about the foreign journalists’ frat house shenanigans. The relationships gone awry. The adrenaline junkie colleagues. That one time a warlord taught her to wield a Kalishnikov…

If you have any interest in a first hand account of the political machinations of Afghanistan and Pakistan during this time period, you will love this book. If you are interested in the secret life of journalists, you will love this book. If you enjoy explorations of culture clashes, you will love this book.

I must admit that though I do try to stay informed, I hadn’t heard of Kim Barker prior to reading this book. I’m not much of a newspaper reader, which is not a fact I’m particularly proud of, but there it is. Like I said. Pinocchio. I do, however, listen to a lot of NPR. Which is why, upon reading the author’s notes I had a “SANTA?! I KNOW HIM!” moment when Kim Barker thanked Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson for talking her into taking an early morning shot of whiskey. I’m sure there’s a really excellent story there, probably involving extreme awesomeness and nerves of steel. Could these journalists BE any more badass? I think not.

Tell me something, Bookworms! Have you ever gotten your signals crossed with books and movies having the same (or strikingly similar) titles?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*


Nov 23

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell

Memoirs, Non Fiction 6

Greetings Bookworms!

You know how they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? Since I do a lot of my reading digitally, I’m not usually prone to that, but I am guilty of judging a book by it’s title. I was browsing NetGalley not too long ago and I ran across a title called The Penguin Lessons: What I Learned from a Remarkable Bird. I didn’t request this solely based on the title. The cover art and the blurb indicating a real life penguin was involved also influenced my decision. I make no apologies for my penguin enthusiasm. Not a single one. PENGUINS FOREVER! *I received a complimentary copy of this book for review consideration. My good opinion cannot be bought with a free book. It can be bought with charming penguins, however.*


Tom Michell was a 23 year old Brit with wanderlust when he decided to accept a post teaching in Argentina in the 1970s. While on holidays from school teaching, he often went exploring other South American locales. While visiting a beach in Uruguay, he happened upon a heartbreaking scene. An oil slick had caused hundreds of penguins to wash ashore. (I had such a hard time reading this part, it was worse than those ASPCA commercials where the dogs with injuries look at you so pathetically while Sarah McLachlan sings.) Among the sea of perished penguins (SOB), there was but a single sign of life. Acting on a crazy impulse, Michell decided to take the surviving penguin home, wash him off, and release him back into the wild. It was the 70s, you guys. There weren’t hotlines for wildlife rescue and whatnot. After an eventful de-oiling, the penguin, now known as Juan Salvador, refuses to leave Tom’s side. Naturally Tom does the only logical thing- he smuggles Juan Salvador across the border and takes him home.

A pet penguin!!! You guys, this is the DREAM. Juan Salvador is a Magellanic penguin, which resonated with me especially as the penguin I met face-t0-face was a  Magellanic penguin too! Juan Salvador was beyond charming. He became the school’s de-facto rugby mascot, party host, and swimming coach. It’s worth noting that Michell DOES mention all the weirdness that comes with keeping a penguin as a pet, particularly the fact that they poop wherever the heck they want to and need a rather large supply of fresh fish. Still, Juan Salvador seems to thrive in his new home and it’s the cutest thing ever. EVER. This book is not for those who are interested in flowery prose as Michell is quite plain spoken, but who needs flowery prose when you had a penguin pet?! This book is definitely worth a read, even if you’re not an insane penguin lover.


I met a penguin, and it’s one of the highlights of my life. Not even kidding.

It’s worth noting that at the end of the novel, Michell, who thinks he’s lost all his photographs from that period of his life, runs across some old video footage of Juan Salvador. I tried to locate this clip online, and when I couldn’t find it, I contacted the publisher because I just couldn’t NOT see it. They were kind enough to oblige me with a clip that I’ve loaded below for your viewing pleasure. It’s the best. Many thanks to George Foster at Penguin Random House for supplying me with the footage, and many thanks to Tom Michell for being my penguin rescue hero! Obviously, I think everyone should go procure a copy of The Penguin LessonsFor the love of penguins!

Talk to me Bookworms! Don’t you wish your high school had a live penguin mascot that you could swim with?! Gaaaah I’m dying. DYING, you guys!

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*


Jan 29

I’m WILD about Cheryl Strayed

Memoirs 38

Howdy Bookworms!

Remember back when we read Tiny Beautiful Things for The Fellowship of the Worms and all I wanted to do was hug Cheryl Strayed? I picked up her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, and the desire to hug her has only intensified. (No, I have not seen the movie. I kind of want to, though, since Reese Witherspoon and I share a birthday.)

wildFour years after the death of her mother, Strayed’s life was spiraling out of control. A series of poor decisions led to the collapse of her marriage and descent into drug abuse all while desperately mourning for her mother. One serendipitous day, Strayed comes across a book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and despite having absolutely no experience with punishing long distance hiking, Strayed decides to tackle the PCT. What follows is her tail of the trail, self discovery, and the world’s sorriest pair of feet. (Seriously, my feet WEPT in sympathy.)

I adored WildI typically dig memoirs, and this was no exception. I goggled at Strayed’s endless moxie in taking on the PCT hike, but I spent a lot of time cringing just the same. I am NOT a risk taker, so my inner monologue kept yelling things like “Just ask for help! I’ll buy you a Snapple Lemonade!” and “For heaven’s sake stop accepting rides from strange men!”

I also appreciated that she explained the fact that she changed her last name to Strayed post divorce. For years I’ve been mentally saying “Stray-Ed” all Shakespearean-like because I assumed it was her birth or married last name and as such would be pronounced slightly differently than the regular word. It is NOT. It is actually JUST the regular word. Enlightening. (I mentally pronounce Jojo Moyes as “Moy-Ez” which is probably wrong, too. I’m still having trouble hearing Rainbow Rowell as “Row” like “WOW” and not “Row” like, your boat, despite having heard a very nice NPR interview.) These aren’t even DIFFICULT names. The things wrong with me are many and varied.

Tell me, Bookworms, do any of you grossly mispronounce author’s names by accident? Just me?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*


Nov 17

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J Maarten Troost

Audio Books, Humor, Memoirs 7

Ahoy, Bookworms!

I’ve always romanticized the idea of a deserted island. I mean, beautiful beaches, stunning sunsets, palm trees… Heavenly, no? Perhaps, if your deserted island isn’t a South Pacific atoll. I was positively stoked to discover my library had an audio copy of The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J Maarten Troost available to dispel all my deserted island fantasies. I mean, after how much I adored Headhunters on My Doorstep (review)?! I downloaded that sucker faster than you can say Robinson Crusoe.

sexlivesofcannibalsOkay, I’m just going to come out and say it. I freaking love J Maarten Troost! He is hysterical. Nothing could destroy my island dreams quite the way Troost’s colorful descriptions of life on an atoll did… And he made me laugh while doing it!

At the age of 26, Troost followed his then girlfriend to the island of Tarawa (part of Kiribati), an atoll in the equatorial Pacific. Youthful wanderlust gives way to the crushing realities of life on an extremely remote island and hilarity ensues. Intestinal parasites, folks using the ocean to defecate, marauding packs of wild dogs, and the incessant droning of “La Macarena”? Between the oddball expatriates making Tarawa their homes and the unfamiliar customs of the native population, Troost has QUITE the adventure.

After listening to The Sex Lives of Cannibals, I’ve begun to threaten my long-suffering husband with biting the nose off his face. Apparently, nose biting is totally an acceptable reaction to jealousy in romantic relationships in Kiribati. My threats are more often in reaction to bantering sessions I’m losing than jealousy, but I think the custom is under-appreciated. (Hubs used to threaten to purchase me a gold engagement nose instead of a ring after watching a documentary on the life of Tycho Brahe. He lost his nose in a duel and had a prosthetic made of gold. True story.) Gold noses might be JUST THE THING for the folks in Kiribati with mangled noses.

Y’all, if you like funny books, J Maarten Troost is a MUST READ author. Take my word (and maybe my nose) for it!

Talk to me, Bookworms! Have you ever had a fantasy completely destroyed by harsh realities? Anybody moved to a romantic or exotic locale only to have it fall short of your expectations?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I will be investing in the Tycho Brahe Memorial Nose Fund… Which is something I’ve completely made up that will funnel money back into my book buying habit.*




Aug 18

I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

Audio Books, Humor, Memoirs 24

Hey there Bookworms,

I really love humorous memoirs, the more neurotic, the better. When I ran across I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley on my library’s list of immediately available digital audio books, I couldn’t help myself. The only think I love more than this book genre is cake! (I really like cake, damnit!)

IWasToldThere'dBeCakeIf you’re not sure audio books are for you, I encourage you to try a memoir that is narrated by the author. Crosley’s voice was a treat! Though her voice would have come across as wry and hilarious in print, hearing her tell her own stories was absolutely fantastic.

I was DYING at the Oregon Trail references. I don’t know how many times I (intentionally or otherwise) killed off my entire travelling party. Dysentery is a bitch. When Crosley related the tale of her creating a cookie shaped in the likeness of her boss’s head, I very nearly shot coffee out my nose. (Be careful with beverages if you’re reading and/or listening to this book. High snarfle risk.)

If you have any fondness for the humorous-literary-memoir-essay genre (say that three times fast) I Was Told There’d Be Cake is not to be missed. I’m very happy I took the neurotic journey into Sloane Crosley’s head.

Talk to me, Bookworms. Who likes cake? Anybody else get really disappointed when a wedding serves desserts OTHER than a ginormous cake full of frosting? Just me?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*


Jun 26

Headhunters on my Doorstep by J Maarten Troost

Humor, Memoirs, Travel 16

Hidey Ho, Bookworms!

It probably won’t come as a huge surprise to any of you, but I’m a bit of a homebody. I like the idea of travel, but I seem to have been born with zero wanderlust. That said, I really like to travel vicariously though books. All the glamour, none of the bedbugs. When I was offered J Maarten Troost’s latest offering, Headhunters on My Doorstep, I figured I’d give it a try. With a title like that, how could I not? I received a  complimentary copy of this book for review consideration from the publisher. The fact that I did not purchase this book in no way influences my opinion on the subject. I feel the need to make that clear, because after reading this, I have a strange urge to become J Maarten Troost’s groupie. Do authors have groupies? Is that even a thing?

headhuntersTravel memoirs are a completely new genre for me, and I’m really glad this book was my introduction. After a stint in rehab to treat his alcoholism, Troost sets out on a journey to find himself. He intends to find himself by getting as off the grid as it’s possible to get in the modern world and retrace the travels of Robert Louis Stevenson (you know, the Treasure Island guy) in the South Pacific.

One part travelogue, one part meditation on addiction, and all parts hilarious, Headhunters on My Doorstep took me on a journey I wasn’t expecting. I typically go into nonfiction expecting that it will be more of a challenge for me than a novel. I chewed through this book in two days. I simply couldn’t put it down!

One of the reasons for my fascination has to do with Survivor. Yep. The reality show. When I was in college, I took a class on Small Group Communication. My professor was really fun, and he realized that Survivor was an excellent way to illustrate small group dynamics. We were required to watch the show as part of our homework, and the season I watched? Season 4: Survivor Marquesas. The only season of Survivor I have ever watched dovetailed PERFECTLY with Troost’s travels. Serendipitous, no?

The other reason I’m so gaga over this book is that Troost is hilarious! Snarky, witty, self depricating- everything I adore in a humorist. I’ve noticed that this book has not gotten as many rave reviews as some of Troost’s earlier books, which honestly has me excited. If this book isn’t considered his best work, what sort of joy do I have in store as I check out his back catalog?! Two super enthusiastic thumbs up for this one, Bookworms. Check it out!

Since this book was set on (very nearly) deserted islands, let’s play a game. What books could you not live without if you were stranded on a desert island? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*


May 02

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls (David Sedaris is a Master Conversation Starter)

Humor, Memoirs 50

Bonjour Bookworms,

Today we’re going to explore diabetes with owls. I know that sounds like a kicky conversation starter for a cocktail party, but really. David Sedaris wrote a new book of personal essays (and other fabulous weirdness) called Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. I’ve been a Sedaris fan since my friend Dr. Erin gave me a copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day for my birthday many moons ago. I own just about everything he’s ever published, because, well, I’m a fan. (Side note: I have known Dr. Erin since her birth, essentially, and she just graduated from vet school and I’m extremely proud!)

Funny thing about Sedaris, though. He’s kind of polarizing. I’ve always enjoyed his humor and bizarre anecdotes, which is why I’m always surprised to hear when people don’t care for him. Some friends have told me they just couldn’t get into his work, or that they were annoyed with the casual drug references, or that he’s just kind of mean sometimes. Those are all perfectly valid objections. I’ve been on the other side of the coin, you know? Chelsea Handler and I did not get along very well. That doesn’t make her any less funny to people who like her style, it just means she isn’t my cup of tea (or bottle of vodka. This is Chelsea we’re talking about.) Before I get too far into this, I’ll just go ahead and tell you. If you don’t like Sedaris, this isn’t going to be the book to change your mind. I’ll like you anyway. We can have differing opinions. The world is magical that way. If you’ve never read any of his work, I encourage you to give it a shot! Find out where you fall and if you are so inclined, join me in my fandom!


This book starts off with a forward by Sedaris mentioning that he included some essays specifically for use in forensics competitions (read: Speech Team. Although I might question a faculty adviser who would allow some of these selections…) They are interspersed between the type of fare I’ve come to expect from my dear David (we can be on a first name basis, right?!) The only problem I had was that he didn’t WARN me when he was playing a character. Without fail, I’d arrive at a forensics chapter and it would take me a few sentences to realize it wasn’t HIS story. I’m a fan, see? I’ve read most of Sedaris’s work, so I KNOW that his mother passed away after a brutal bout with cancer. Therefore, I was terribly confused when in one of these digressions, the narrator of the piece started discussing their mother being in the next room. I’m not always the brightest.

Aside from my minor episodes of confusion, I very much enjoyed this book. Sedaris has spent a big chunk of his adult life living outside the confines of the USA. Me Talk Pretty One Day discussed his time in France at length, but one country was not enough for Sedaris and his life partner Hugh. They’ve traveled extensively and lived in a multitude of places. (Word to the wise- DO NOT get your passport stolen if you have a British “leave to remain” sticker in it.)

Things I learned from this book which are obviously completely scientific and in no way colored by the author’s quirks… The English countryside has a terrible problem with littering. China has a terrible problem with loogie hocking. Japan is extremely clean and full of delightful cuisine. People in the Netherlands think that hanging clear plastic bags of water in front of their doors keep flies away. Kookaburras enjoy eating raw duck meat from the hands of guests at Australian bed and breakfasts (though it leaves the reader to wonder if a bird eating the meat of another bird is cannibalism or if it doesn’t count because they’re a different species… I’m a mammal and I eat mammals… Hmmm…) This book is a whole lot of cultural insensitivity squished in with admiration of global diversity rolled into a nutty coating of taxidermy owls… In short? It’s a rare treat.

Bookworms, if you were to write a collection of essays about your life, what would you focus on? What would you title it? Would it ever include taxidermy and/or kookaburras?