CategoryReviews of Non-fiction Books

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I was fortunate to have this book to read during that endless travel day to Malta last week and it has been a good companion as I recover from jet lag. Though I knew the reviews for this book were positive, I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. I especially loved reading about her childhood and her modest, fun-loving, and hard-working family background. Throughout the book the...

Heartland by Sarah Smarsh

The subtitle A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth describes Sarah Smarsh’s family background.  She tells of escaping the poverty that engulfed multiple generations in her family in Kansas. Two pieces of advice I took away from this book:  1) Don’t live in a country whose economic system makes it very hard for those in poverty to change their...

Island Home: A Landscape Memoir by Tim Winton

It was such a treat to read a book that lovingly describes Tim Winton’s unique home, “the world’s largest island,” as he has it. For me the best part is being reminded of the sense memories of my own childhood, though my Virginia countryside couldn’t be more different from Australia. One topic he wrote about that resonates with me begins this way:  “Like most...

The Road Through Miyama by Leila Philip

Recently I read a book by an American woman living in Japan who wrote about her experiences there including taking a pottery class. That moved me to look for this book which I read many years ago and I found it to be as wonderful to read again as the first time. It is the story of a college-age woman who spent 1983 to 1985 in a “folkcraft” village, Miyama, in Japan apprenticed to a...

Robin by Dave Itzkoff

This qualifies as the perfect audiobook for me:  it maintained my interest throughout, made me laugh, and was a poignant story. Robin Williams first became famous for the TV show Mork and Mindy which came at a time (1978 to 1982) when we only watched IU basketball and old movies on tv. We all probably remember him from appearances on late night shows like Johnny Carson, where he first appeared in...

My Year of Dirt and Water by Tracy Franz

Years ago, I read a book by a woman who spent two years in Japan learning about pottery. From it, and from my friend Pat, I learned about Japanese woodblock prints, so it was an important book for me. I read this book to revisit that one I loved so much. The subtitle of this one is Journal of a Zen Monk’s Wife in Japan. The author and her husband had been in Japan for a few years when in...

True North by Jill Ker Conway

Jill Ker Conway’s second autobiographical book follows The Road from Coorain and recounts her experience upon arrival from Australia as a graduate student at Harvard through her time at the University of Toronto. It ends with the beginning of her presidency at Smith College in 1975. She tells the charming, sometimes quite touching stories of her life in this period beginning in 1960. The...

Chesapeake Requiem by Earl Swift

The subtitle A Year With the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island explains a lot and brings up more questions that are entertainingly answered by Earl Swift. The island is in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay and has been a curiosity for years. We visited for an afternoon more than 25 years ago with other tourists taking the ferry from the Eastern Shore. Tangier is so small people bike or drive...

Looking for The Stranger by Alice Kaplan

In 2012 I read Camus’ book The Stranger in French and The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud in 2015. First, here’s a short summary of The Stranger. Meursault, a French Algerian, begins the tale with the announcement of his mother’s death. He shows disrespect by drinking cafe au lait, smoking, and dozing as he sits by her coffin. A few days later he shoots a man he...

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Having heard the author, a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at Berkeley interviewed on Terry Gross, I listened to his book. While there was an element of “a hammer sees everything as a nail” to the book, I found much in it that was persuasive. He is able to trace all manner of bad outcomes for individuals and society as a whole to the lack of sleep. It became rather depressing...

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