Category Archives: Nonfiction

Review: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

ManWhoLovesBooks_JKTF.inddTitle: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

Author: Allison Hoover Bartlett

Genre/Pages: Nonfiction/288

Publication: Riverhead Books; September 17, 2009

Rating: 4 BOOKMARKS

A riveting account of one man’s obsession with rare books, another man’s unrelenting efforts to catch him, and the woman who documented it all.

Persistent lying and stealing.  Check. Superficial charm.  Check. Lack of remorse or inability to care about hurting others.  Check. Narcissism and sense of extreme entitlement.  Check and CHECK.

John Charles Gilkey could be the poster child for Antisocial Personality Disorder and he’s fixated on rare books.  In him, Allison Hoover Bartlett finds an inconsistent and unreliable source who acts as her guide on a literary odyssey through the world of rare books and his obsession with possessing them through acts of fraud and theft.

Spending whole years researching Gilkey and Ken Sanders, the book dealer who made it his personal mission to catch him, Bartlett finds herself, at times, walking the fine line between right and wrong to get her story.  This conflict actually made the work all the more authentic and exciting.  Gilkey confides in her about crimes past and Bartlett wrangles with her conscience–should she report him and risk scaring him off, ending their professional relationship (and her research)?

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much details the world of rare books, making it seem enticing and almost seductive.  Each collector’s hunt for the book, the crowning jewel of his or her collection, keeps the dealers in business.  What used to be a rich, white man’s game is now seeing an influx of younger, more diverse collectors.

With colorful characters, steady pacing, tales of deception and illicit behavior, and dogged efforts to catch a criminal,  The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is an exciting, educational, and thoroughly entertaining read.  If you’re looking for a great nonfiction book for a challenge or just want a change of pace, I would recommend this book without hesitation.  Many thanks to Lydia at Riverhead for this review copy!

Do you collect rare or first edition books?  How about signed editions?  I have a few signed books–Jodi Picoult came to my local library a few years ago and signed two books for me and I went to Megan McCafferty’s book signing a few years ago at B&N.  I don’t have any rare or first edition books–the only old books I have are ones from my childhood that I keep for nostalgic reasons.

BBAW: Have you heard about…

A few months ago, I put out a plea to book bloggers for help with a personal reading challenge I was developing–Off The Deep End Summer Reading–and asked for suggestions of bloggers’ favorite books.  I turned to book bloggers rather than more traditional sources (New York Times Book List, Washington Post, etc) because I think we cover a broader spectrum; we’re not only reading best-sellers or books that have been marketed heavily. 

The response was overwhelming–over 30 titles–some I had read but most I hadn’t.  And so began my reading binge of GREAT BOOKS suggested by book bloggers.  I’ve only managed to get through eight of the 30 books so far, but it’s more fun to savor them!  (To view this list with LIVE links to the blogs and the books, click HERE.)  If your TBR pile ever gets low, stop by and take a look at my list again!

Here’s a (partial) snapshot of the original post with images of the suggested titles–my two favorites so far were The Help and The Gargoyle:

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List of book recommendations without links to blogs:

  1. Autobiography of a Fat Bride by Laurie Notaro (Erica of Pannonica) 6/11/09
  2. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan (Vivienne of Serendipity)
  3. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (Claire from Kiss a Cloud) 6/17/09
  4. Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones (Anastasia from Bird Brained Book Blog)
  5. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (Hayden from Through the Illusion)
  6. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson (Dani at Positively Present)
  7. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Heather at Book Addiction)
  8. End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson (Keri at Bookends) 6/6/09
  9. Wise Children by Angela Carter (Veronica at I Lived On Rum)
  10. And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer (Lynn at Lynn’s Little Corner of the World)
  11. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Stephanie at The Written Word and Belle of the Books) 8/24/09
  12. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (Jackie at Farm Lane Books)
  13. Namako: Sea Cucumber by Linda Watanabe McFerrin (Christy at The Daily Dish)
  14. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (Jena at Muse Book Reviews) 7/19/09
  15. One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash (Suzi Q Oregon at Whimpulsive)
  16. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (Florinda at The 3 Rs) 6/19/09
  17. One Deadly Sin by Annie Solomon (Becky at My Thoughts…Your Thoughts)
  18. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (Belle from Ms. Bookish)
  19. Cloud Street by Tim Winton (Susan and Meredith from Whelan Flynn)
  20. The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart (Institutrice)
  21. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (Carrie K. from Books and Movies)
  22. The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread by Don Robertson (Bybee from Naked Without Books)
  23. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (Beth from Beth Fish Reads)
  24. Clown Girl by Monica Drake (Stephanie from Please, Stop Bouncing)
  25. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (Claire from Kiss a Cloud)
  26. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Emily from The World Inside My Head)
  27. Popular Music in Vittula by Michel Niemi translated by Laurie Thompson (Chartroose from Bloody Hell, It’s a Book Barrage!)
  28. No One You Know by Michelle Richmond (Avisannschild from She Reads and Reads) 8/2/09
  29. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl (Soft Drink from Fizzy Thoughts)
  30. Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender (I spotted a review for this one on StephSu’s blog) 5/31/09

Review AND Giveaway: Up For Renewal by Cathy Alter

WIN A COPY OF UP FOR RENEWAL!  See the review for details. CONGRATS to JESS of Book Reviews by Jess; She’s the winner!

renewalTitle: Up For Renewal

Author: Cathy Alter

Genre/Pages: Memoir/336

Publication: Atria Books; July 2008/Washington Square Press (re-release); July 2009

Rating: 3.5 BOOKMARKS

A year in the life of a woman who has committed herself to change, taking advice from glossy magazines on the big Fs: fashion, fitness, food, finance, and, ultimately, FINDING herself.

I’m a huge fan of essays and memoirs–Jen Lancaster, Bill Bryson, David Sedaris–are some of my favorite nonfiction writers.  I have laughed my way through so many memoirs that deciding to review Up For Renewal was a no-brainer–it was a memoir AND the premise hooked me!

At the age of 37, Cathy Alter’s life wasn’t exactly going according to plan.  Recently divorced and spiraling down a bleak pathlittered with sexual conquests and take-out food containers, Alter commits herself…to change.

Over the course of one year, Alter focuses on improving herself.  Each month she tackles a different aspect of her life–fitness, finance, fashion, relationships.  Using the magazines as her holy grail and life map, she charts a new course for herself and learns that sometimes it’s necessary to cross choppy seas to get to a safe harbor. 

An entertaining read, Alter doesn’t sugarcoat her bad behavior, nor does she apologize.  She takes responsibility for her actions–good and bad–and is able to learn and move on.  Though I had difficulty relating to some of Alter’sbehaviors, I enjoyed the memoir and found her writing to be witty and easy to read.  Her tirades against Saran wrap had me snorting with laughter.

That said (and since there is a giveaway associated with this review), some readers with more Victorian sensibilities might be a bit put off by profanity and adult situations.  Consider this fair warning.  For the rest of you corrupt little scoundrels, carry on!

For a chance to win a  copy of Up For Renewal, simply leave a comment and tell me which magazines you love to read.  Contest ends Friday, September 4th at 8pm EST. 

Thanks to Minjae Ormes for the review copy!

Review: The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances by Mark Millhone

patronsaintTitle: The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances

Author: Mark Millhone

Genre/Pages: Nonfiction, Memoir (Humor, Relationships)/192

Publication: Rodale Books; July 7, 2009

Rating: 3.5 BOOKMARKS

 

Nat’s ‘In a Nutshell’:  One man’s nine month journey to hell and back with a layover in Dallas where he picks up a honey of a used car hoping it will have the power to ferry him back (literally and metaphorically) to his wife, children, and the way things used to be.

To say that things aren’t going well for Mark Millhone and his family would be an understatement.  In the span of time equivalent to a baby’s gestation, Millhone fields tragedy after trauma, from his mother’s death, father’s diagnosis with cancer, infant son’s near-death after birth, and older son’s run-in with the family dog’s fangs. 

As his world and marriage crumble around him, Millhone takes to his computer, stalking eBay Motors for a car.  His salvation comes in the form of a 1994 BMW 7 series–the panacea to all that ails him.  The symbolism is clear–the car is much more than just four wheels and seat–it’s redemption with leather upholstery.  Under the pretext of asking for help, Millhone orchestrates some father-son bonding by enlisting his father to ride shotgun on the drive home from the Lone Star State (where the Beemer is)  to the Big Apple (where Millhone lives).

In the interim, Mark packs up his wife and sons and trundles them off to his in-laws’ house in upstate New York.  He mentions that in better times, he and his wife owned and renovated a farmhouse in Margaretville.  My great-grandfather owns a piece of prime real estate in the Margaretville Cemetery and has been in residence there since 1954.  Before that, he owned a dairy farm in Halcottsville, where my dad summered as a boy.  (It was a kick to read about these towns–especially since I spent part of my summer vacation there last month!)

Millhone and his father make the epic drive, and as readers we ride along, getting filled in on the back story.  He doesn’t shy away from the telling–even when it would be less painful or easier to edit events or conversations.  He confronts his failures and examines his self-doubt.  He openly discusses the difficult relationship he had with his mother and the challenge that parenthood really is. 

It was refreshing to read such an honest account of how parenting and marriage can, despite best efforts and intentions, go bad.  No one sets out to be a bad spouse or parent, but both roles are jobs that require Herculean dedication and responsibility.  Millhone’s memoir examines marriage, family relationships, and being a father with humor and authenticity that comes from experience and perseverance.    

This memoir acted as springboard in my house for some interesting discussions about marriage and family.  Children dramatically impact the landscape of a marriage and the husband-wife dynamic shifts.  If you have children, did you find the adjustment to be more or less difficult than you anticipated?  Do you have any tips for dealing with this issue?

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this memoir–nonfiction is one of my favorite genres!

 

Review: The Sitting Swing by Irene Watson

swing

Title: The Sitting Swing

Author: Irene Watson

Genre/Pages: Memoir, Inspirational/215 pages

Publication: LHP; July 16, 2008

Rating: 2.5 BOOKMARKS

A journey to find freedom from codependency and unhappiness, Irene Watson’s The Sitting Swing is one woman’s story of recovery.

Raised by Ukranian immigrant parents in almost absolute isolation from society until she was six, Watson recounts her stark childhood in the unforgiving Canadian province of Alberta and how her upbringing shaped her personality and perception of life and relationships.

After losing one child to illness, Irene’s mother isn’t about to let her second child wander too far from her vigilant watch.  As a result, Irene’s attempts at independence are stifled and her personality development is retarded by her mother’s domineering parenting.

The memoir recounts Irene’s struggles to learn English, make friends, and her numerous attempts to escape from under her mother’s thumb.  As an adult, she finds herself repressing her feelings and struggling with her marriage.

A few years shy of 50, Irene, a therapist herself, checks into a 28-day program with little hope of taking away more than just some rhetoric to pass on to her patients.  Initially, she works against the program and is high skeptical of its efficacy.  In the end, she opens herself to the lessons and counselors, finding the tools she needs to make peace with her past and change her present.

This book was a quick and interesting read, though I typically don’t read inspirational nonfiction.  Without minimizing Watson’s childhood struggles, I have to confess that I kept waiting for the big reveal–a major and catastrophic event that brought her to Avalon for help. 

Watson’s diction–chatty and conversational at times–detracted from her story.   Maybe she was aiming for candor, but this memoir could be markedly improved if she would have detached from her audience and relayed the story without casually addressing the reader.

Don’t ask me how, because I don’t know, and I’m not sure I would want to bore you with the details if I did…Let’s zip forward ten years… (Watson, 18-19)

Ultimately, Irene Watson finds the tools she needs and is able to recognize the past for what it is.  From there, she can let go and move forward in her marriage, life, and career.

Thank you to Dorothy at Pump Up Your Book Promotion! for this review copy! 

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Review: Don’t Call Me a Crook! by Bob Moore

crookTitle: Don’t Call Me a Crook!

Author: Bob Moore

Genre/Pages: Memoir; 255 pages

Publication: Originally published 1935; republished by Dissident Books, Ltd. 2009

Rating: 2.5 BOOKMARKS

Originally published over 70 years ago, Bob Moore’s memoir, Don’t Call Me a Crook! is part sensation, part confession. 

Bob Moore lived a wild and wicked life–he was a cad and a scoundrel and who tried to rationalize his criminal hi-jinx. 

“…I thought of the guy waiting in the Shellman Hotel for me, and I thought how he had meant to fool me nicely by making me take all the risk, and then paying me off with a paltry hundred dollars while he made thousands of pounds (on loose, stolen diamonds).  I reckon he deserved to lose those diamonds…”  (Moore, 28)

He explained that when opportunity presented itself, he didn’t have to think twice about stealing.  I imagined him as a moustache-twirling villain who managed to charm most everyone–and was I ever right! 

I’m no Puritan over here, but even I was a tad scandalized by the blase manner in which Moore glibly told of swindling, bootlegging, and murder.  He amazed me by dodging one proverbial bullet after another.  He traveled the globe, often at a moment’s notice–especially when fleeing from the scene of a crime, something he did with alarming frequency.

The direction of Bob Moore’s life was led by the Grand Theft Auto moral compass–theft, adultery, and cheating were his cardinal directions.  Despite his shortcomings and criminal lifestyle (or maybe because of them), the book is an entertaining read.  As he goes from one improbable adventure to the next, the reader is left questioning how one person could live so many lifetimes in one life.

This book was not widely received after its original publishing in 1935 and was recently re-released with an introduction, afterword, and footnotes–some  superfluous and distracting.  There were many nautical references footnoted (crow’s nest, galley, stateroom, purser, list) and though I’ve never captained a ship, I’ve watched enough episodes of The Love Boat to understand the lingo.  Other footnotes, however, were necessary and helpful.

Perhaps because this book was penned so long ago (or because Moore just didn’t give a damn), prejudice is evident in a few of his interactions.  I understand that they aren’t themes of the novel, but intolerance turns me off.

Overall, Don’t Call Me a Crook! is an entertaining, albeit scandalous, read.  Moore can really tell a story–and he has the details to support his tales.  People who enjoy this genre and are interested in reading about the life and times of this Glaswegian shouldn’t hesitate to pick up this book! 

Thanks to Lisa from Online Publicist for sending me this memoir!

Celebrity Bios: Hot or Not?

Hello, my name is Natalie and I read celebrity biographies.  (Hello, Natalie!)

A genre that often reads like fiction is the celebrity bio/autobiography.  Some readers eschew this genre because they aren’t interested in celebrities.  Others avoid it because the writing can be appallingly bad.  Still others know that buying these books hurts real writers because the publishers pay obscene sums of money for the celebrity tell-alls, leaving virtually no budget for the rest of the authors.  All of those reasons are valid yet I still find myself reading these books.  

I’ve read more than a few celebrity bios over the last year or so–14 readily come to mind.  A few were really good and rest were abysmal.  I’m not a celebrity watcher–we don’t even have television at my house–yet the list below is damning evidence proving my mini-addiction to the genre.  I’ve blazed through books about:

  • Sidney Poirtier
  • Michael J. Fox
  • Rosie O’Donnell
  • Martha Stewart
  • Tori Spelling 
  • Michael Hutchence (of the Aussie band INXS)
  • John Steinbeck
  • William Shatner
  • Eric Clapton
  • Patty Boyd
  • Paula Deen
  • Harper Lee
  • Madonna
  • Maureen McCormick (Marsha Brady)

Has your opinion of me plummeted?  My only defense (aside from the insanity plea!) is that this genre is my guilty pleasure!  I don’t read tabloid or celebrity magazines but can’t quite keep my paws off of these.  

When I go to the library to borrow these books, it’s like I’m renting a dirty movie or something.  I put them in the middle of a huge pile of literary masterpieces, hoping to hide the shame that is the tell-all bio!  I’m not sure why I even read these books when most are a monumental waste of my time and aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.  Curiosity, maybe? 

So, is it only me or do you read this genre too?  Did you also remove the dust jacket while reading sTORI Telling by Tori Spelling, or was that just me?