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Random Round Up

The East End Food Co-Op Winterfest celebration was on January 23.  Usually there are like 5 times more people in attendance than the venue can handle, but this time, due to a big ol’ snowstorm that morning, the crowds were much more reasonable.  There was plenty of food and lots of activities for kids. Baby Beez and I had some fun with the photo booth.

winterfest photobooth

I just finished A Cure for Suicide, and it was such a different, interesting approach from the usual dystopian novel. It was a fast read, and I really enjoyed it, but I also kind of feel like I would have gotten a lot more out of it if I had the opportunity to discuss it.  It would be a good book club book (so tell yer book clubs!!).

A Cure for Suicide

I am watching Baskets and omg.  I doubt that more than like 10 people are also watching it, but it is bizarrely brilliant. More people need to watch this, so that it goes on for a million seasons. It involves: (1) Zach Galifianakis & Louis C.K. (2) Bakersfield. (3) Louie Anderson in a dress. (4) Cloon.

baskets-fx-series-zach-galifianakis


As you can tell from my recent lack of posting, I’m lacking in the blogging mojo right now.  I’ve been to a few new (to me) restaurants lately, and I need to post about them. I feel like all of the adjectives have fallen out of my head and I just don’t have a foodie vocabulary right now.  Pass the coffee plz. And moar. And moar.

Oh, also, I just started Orange is the New Black, and this is the only way I am getting my exercise in right now, because I tell myself that if I want to watch the show, I HAVE to watch it while walking on the treadmill. So walk I do. It’s a lot different than the book, but fantastic all on its own. Also, Jenji Kohan is amazing.

Orange-is-the-New-Black-Cast

Mr. Beez and I finally became the last people in the universe to finish watching Breaking Bad last week. It was great, blah blah blah, I don’t really have anything else to add about it.  Now that I have Netflix, I am falling down the rabbit hole of TV I have missed over the last couple of years.  Instead of reading 100 books this year, I just may watch 100 TV shows.  We have also just started watching FX’s The People vs. OJ Simpson, and despite my pessimistic expectation that it would be awful, it is not. It’s fantastic. Except for David Schwimmer…I’m like Ross, why are you trying to be buddies with OJ?


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Small business shopping– not just for #ShopSmallSaturday

Small business shopping– not just for #ShopSmallSaturday

The recent shuttering of Marty’s Market and announced relocation (or closing) of Pittsburgh Public Market have me sad, but even more so, have me frustrated.  Mr. Beez went to the liquidation sale at Marty’s last weekend, and he told me how people kept going up to the owner, Regina, saying how much they loved the place and how sad they were to see it closing, but you could just see it in her eyes, the thought that “That’s very nice, but if you loved it so much, shopping here would have kept it open!”

#ShopSmallSaturday is a cute idea and well intentioned, but it has facilitated a “Shop Small” mindset that is restricted to novelty, or increasingly, self-publicized social media posts announcing “LOOK I AM SUPPORTING THE SMALL BUSINESSES!”  Yes, I too am guilty of such self-congratulation. (Here and here). Small businesses do not survive, much less thrive, on a single day of celebrated shopping or blog posts filled with praise.  Small businesses survive on dollars.

At the beginning of 2015, I set a resolution to transition all my grocery shopping to the East End Food Co-Op.  This goal was grounded in several reasons, (1) it is a local, member owned, community supported business and I decided I needed to step up my real, dollars and cents, support of that endeavor, (2) the principles that the co-op applies in selecting the products it offers are consistent with my own principles concerning health, fairness to employees, and local-focus, so shopping there dramatically cuts down (if not eliminates) my need to sort through information about the brands and products themselves, and (3) Mr. Beez has long been on the board of the co-op and its success is important to him, so I wanted to step up our financial support from occasional shopping to regular shopping.

Co-op snacking

At a month in, I found that I had to make some tweaks to how I shopped, but that otherwise it was all going swimmingly.  Now, over a year in, the co-op has become our regular grocery store and the thought of shopping at the normal chain places is exhausting to me.  Sure, occasionally I have to shop at a larger grocery chain because there are things that the co-op just doesn’t have (see: ingredients for buffalo chicken dip).  But the mainstays of our diet now come from the co-op.

Throughout 2015, we continued to make changes to make sure that our dollars stayed in the community.  I guess the co-op principles really struck a chord, and we applied those principles more broadly in our lives.  For the last several years we have had summer farm shares.  In 2015 we got our fruit & vegetable farm share with Clarion River Organics, and then expanded to also get a beef share. I’m not going to fill this post up with links about factory farming, you can go find that yourself. But I decided that if we were going to continue to cook meat in the house, I could at least make sure that I was getting it from local farmers, focused on the quality of life of the animals.

We also made the Pittsburgh Public Market a regular part of our lives– every Saturday we go there for lunch after Baby Beez’ ballet class is over.  She gets her chocolate milk from Family Farm Creameries and a hot dog from Bull Dawgs.  Mr. Beez gets his pint of Red Star Kombucha, and we pick our lunches based on whatever we happen to feel like that day (usually Ohio City Pasta, omg amazing). While we used to only go to the Public Market as an occasional outing, we have since turned it into a regular part of our lives.

Public Market

I’m not writing this to be sanctimonious. Shopping local can be expensive and sometimes inconvenient.  I am not asking everyone to abandon Target and only get non-bleached paper towels at the co-op. I don’t shop local all the time. I’ve got a Starbucks coffee on my desk right now.  But what I’ve been working harder at over the last year is making local businesses a routine part of my family’s every day life, so that supporting a local business isn’t just what we do in our day to day lives, not some isolated novelty.

If our community wants to see these small businesses move forward, we have to spend our money at these small businesses. Yelp posts about how charming the business is doesn’t go very far. It is a kick to the gut, watching small businesses that are so important to us, have to close when the public’s spending doesn’t match its professed fondness.

Public Market 2

So start making small changes. Make small business the priority you claim it to be.

When you are going on a coffee date with a friend, instead of immediately offering to meet at the ‘bux, consider instead: Commonplace Coffee, Zeke’s, Big Dog Coffee, Constellation Coffee, Coffee Tree Roasters, 21st Street Coffee, Anchor & Anvil Coffee Bar or Lili Cafe.

When you are picking up coffee to brew at home, instead of grabbing the bag of Dunkin, consider instead beans from: Coffee 19, Caffe D’Amore, La Prima Espresso or Nicholas Coffee Co.

When you’re running out to pick up lunch on a workday, instead of grabbing Subway, consider: Umbrella Cafe, Madonna’s, Bluebird Kitchen, Market Square Grocery or Craftwork Kitchen.

When you’re picking up beer for the game, instead of grabbing six packs at Market District, consider: picking up bottles at Carson St. Deli, getting a case at Vecenie Distributing, or filling growlers at Grist House, Arsenal Cider, VooDoo Brewery, Full Pint or at Houghs.

When you’re picking up a birthday gift & card, instead of running to CVS, consider: Wild Card, Kards Unlimited, or make a point to stop over at one of the many sessions of I Made it Market!

When you’re ordering pizza for Superbowl Sunday, instead of calling Domino’s, consider: Rialto’s, Fiore’s, Cestone’s, Spak Bros. or (if you’re feeling fancy) Pizza Taglio.

It’s a little tougher in the suburbs, but when you’re in the city, there are small businesses everywhere. It’s not enough to profess our love for them on the internet. If we want them to thrive, we need to spend our money there as part of our everyday lives.

If you’re so inspired, please share your favorite local spots. I’m always up for new ideas for keeping our dollars in the community.

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Sunday Night Catch Up

There have been a number of things over the last month or two that I’ve told myself I need to get around to blogging about. I have the pictures and the intention, and then it comes down to I could either write the post or take a nap. Today I took a nap and OMG it felt good. Naps have been much higher on my priorities list. As they should be for everyone.  I hate that nagging feeling of having a backlog of posts. By the time I have enough time to sit down and write, the older ideas feel stale and I’m no longer into it. So this is my “catch up post” and I’m counting this as a clean slate moving forward.

(1) Now that the winter is really bitter and cold, I am again asking myself WHY do I live in Pittsburgh, and wishing I could go back to our holiday week in Tampa.  We only got to check out a small slice of it, but Tampa seems like a really cool town.  On our last night there we ate at this killer Latin American restaurant called El Puerto.

El Puerto


El Puerto

El Puerto

Mr. Beez had the dinner pictured in the middle, which was basically steaks on top of sausages on top of chicken on top of mountains and mountains and mountains of meat. Also, they had churros, which is nothing crazy or special when you’re in Florida, but churros are HARD to come by in Pittsburgh, so yasssssssss.

(2)  When we were in Florida, we went to Legoland. Everything was awesome.

Legoland

We were incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy a lot of amusement parks with Baby Beez this year. We went to Disneyworld (Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios), both Universal Florida theme parks, Sesame Place, Kennywood, and now Legoland.  now we are beginning what I will call “A few years of not going to any damn amusement parks” because I’ve had enough amusement. We may take her to Disney again in 5 or so years, but we need some time off for a while.

(3) Just FYI, outside of Legoland is this crazy delicious BBQ joint called Hog Heaven Smokehouse. It’s in a nondescript little strip mall, so you won’t notice it unless you’re looking for it. LOOK FOR IT. I admit, BBQ does not tend to be the most photogenic food, but you need to try this stuff, because it is delicious. Also, it’s a small family run place, and everyone working there was absolutely the sweetest. I felt more like a guest in someone’s home than a customer at a restaurant.

Hog Heaven

(4) We also visited the Dali museum when we were in Florida. It’s been a dream of mine since I was in high school to visit this museum, and it did not disappoint. It also had a special exhibition of Escher’s works going on. It was a complete dream for my high school self.

Dali Museum


(5) Ybor City was a totally cool neighborhood and we had so much fun checking out their local breweries, of which there are several. Our favorite brewery was Cigar City Cider & Mead. They had over a dozen offerings on tap of all kinds of meads and ciders, so many different flavors and all over the spectrum from dry to sweet. The bartenders were super friendly and were proud of the drinks they were serving, and chatted with us the whole time. Also they were playing Indiana Jones movies on a big screen the whole time. A+.

Cigar City

(6) When we got back to Pixburgh, we swung by the food truck roundup at The Brew Gentlemen because I saw that Blowfish BBQ was there, and thanks to the amazing food I had at Hog Heaven Smokehouse, I NEEDED BBQ and all I could think about was smoked chicken and delicious deliciousness. Delicious deliciousness was had, and if you have not yet had Blowfish BBQ, you are sorely missing out on the best BBQ in the city. And if you disagree with me, you are just wrong. Sorry.

Blowfish BBQ


(7) This week I visited Amazing Cafe with my friend Beth, and at risk of sounding ridiculous, it really was Amazing. I had the Tulum tacos, which included roasted tempeh, potatoes and vegetables. I also had a green juice that was legitimately delicious. I don’t really like juice, but from time to time I will tolerate it. I actively liked this juice, which is very unusual for me. Both Beth and I were thrilled with our lunches, the food was fresh, light and made us feel good from eating it. This is definitely worth a mid-day trip out of downtown.

Amazing Cafe Tulum Tacos

(8) This week was Restaurant Week and I made it out for 2 meals.  On Thursday, we went for family dinner to Braddock’s Brasserie at the Renaissance Hotel downtown. Baby Beez was really excited that we were eating at a restaurant in a HOTEL and I have no idea why, but whatever. The food was very good and the service was very friendly, so we had a really nice time.

Braddock's


Braddock's

IMG_5736

Braddock's

(9) The Steel Trap and I also went to Prairie for Restaurant Week dinner. Prairie is also on the gastropub/comfort food theme. The food was brilliantly executed and the ambiance was fun and laid back. I am puzzled, though, why the owners decided to change from Verde, which was a really good Mexican style restaurant in a town with few Mexican Restaurant, into a gastropub/comfort food kind of restaurant, of which there seem to be no shortage anymore. I went for the dishes that they are best known for– the chicken & biscuit and the ice cream cookie, and I was not disappointed. HGB of The Steel Trap also loved it, and you can click here for her review.

Prairie Pittsburgh


(10) Over this weekend, we took Baby Beez to Dave & Busters for a bit. We played this ridiculous pirates game that involved shooting monsters and such, but she and I had so much fun together with it, it was really incredible. I’m not really into video games, and she doesn’t have the skills or coordination to do well at them so she gets frustrated fast, but we were able to make some headway on this silly game and had such a fun time playing it together. It was one of those special little memories that is going to stay with me.

Dave & Busters


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And now it is January

With the new year, I’ve been spinning lots of plates. It’s always a challenge to figure out what is working and what is not.  There’s never enough time to do everything, but you can prioritize and make time for the important things. Figuring out which things are important things, however, is its own process.  I’d like to get back into a more regular pattern of blogging, but that is its own process.  For the time being, here are the things on my mind:

  • We spent Christmas to New Year’s Eve in Tampa. We had some good food down there, and I hope to put something together soon about the places we visited.
  • I love all things true crime, so Making a Murderer totally got me to renew my Netflix subscription.  I don’t necessarily think that documentary makers or journalists always have a particular agenda, but from what I have seen from reporting as compared to my experience handling particular cases (and how they are reported in the news), I find that reporting is often inaccurate (or maybe better described as imprecise) and incomplete.  All of this is a long prelude to say that although I think Making a Murderer is fascinating, it doesn’t inspire me to jump immediately onto the “Pardon Steven Avery” bandwagon.  I do, however, think that what they have presented should motivate the State of Wisconsin to order some kind of independent, external review of the proceedings.
  • I am equally fascinated by Serial and Undisclosed. Like with Making a Murderer, I’m not convinced by them that Adnan is innocent, but I think they raise enough questions that his conviction should be reviewed over again.
  • BTW, Braddock’s posted a picture of their Restaurant Week special online (bourbon braised osso bucco) and I think I really need to make this happen…


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2015: A Year of 100 Books

2015: A Year of 100 Books

In 2014, with some effort, I read over 50 books. My goal for 2015 was also 50 books. Somewhere along the way, I discovered the wonder of Overdrive audiobooks from the Carnegie Library and also got myself an Audible subscription (because I couldn’t get enough audiobooks from the library alone).  On December 28, I realized I was in the low 90s. Being SO CLOSE to such a nice round number with only a couple days to go left one obvious solution– graphic novels. So with a combination of eBooks, audiobooks and yes even good old fashioned paperbacks sometimes too, I read a grand total of 100 books this year.

These are the things that happen when you read 100 books in a year:

  • You listen to books all the time. When you’re getting ready in the morning, driving in the car, doing laundry, walking around downtown, grocery shopping. You also realize how much time you previously spent not having headphones in your ears, because suddenly you’re clocking in an hour or two of audiobook reading every day, when you previously weren’t listening to anything at all during that time.
  • You come to appreciate excellent audiobook narrators. And you ditch a book PRONTO if you don’t like a voice.
  • You get really excited for O Magazine and Real Simple every month, because their book recommendations are always excellent.
  • Your recall is terrible. Reading this many books is like binge watching TV, except not binge watching the same show the whole time, more like binge channel surfing. I can generally remember what is going on in the book while I’m reading it (although sometimes if the plot lines are too subtle, I may have to look up some notes online), but usually once I finish a book, the whole thing falls out of my head and I remember barely anything.  This is due to both the number of books I read (I only have so much space in my brain), but also because, with the exception of pre-bedtime reading, I am usually multitasking during my reading time. That is the glory of audiobooks– why do one thing at a time when you can do two or three?
  • You inadvertently find yourself in theme-streaks.  I don’t know why, but I end up reading lots of books with similar qualities all at once. I had a streak of literature set in Afghanistan in 2014. I read several books dealing with life in North Korea this year.  Every now and then, I read a whole bunch of YA books back to back.  It’s not intentional, but it’s interesting to go back through my lists and see these clusters.
  • Your husband gets sick of hearing “Wait– I need to turn off my headphones” every time he goes to tell you something.

My favorite books I read in 2015:

I tend to like very dark, dramatic literature, but sometimes go for things that are lighthearted and funny. I’m not interested in WWII literature, romance, so-called chick lit.  Sometimes I like sci-fi-ish type books, but not consistently enough to say I’m big into the genre.  I also really like books about ordinary life in other parts of the world, I’m curious about people’s everyday lives. So this is a completely subjective list of the books I liked the best this year.

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

The First Bad Man, Miranda July (this book was so strange but so captivating)

From the acclaimed filmmaker, artist, and bestselling author ofNo One Belongs Here More Than You, a spectacular debut novel that is so heartbreaking, so dirty, so tender, so funny–so Miranda July–readers will be blown away.

Here is Cheryl, a tightly-wound, vulnerable woman who lives alone, with a perpetual lump in her throat. She is haunted by a baby boy she met when she was six, who sometimes recurs as other people’s babies. Cheryl is also obsessed with Phillip, a philandering board member at the women’s self-defense non-profit where she works. She believes they’ve been making love for many lifetimes, though they have yet to consummate in this one.

When Cheryl’s bosses ask if their twenty-one-year-old daughter Clee can move into her house for a little while, Cheryl’s eccentrically-ordered world explodes. And yet it is Clee–the selfish, cruel blond bombshell–who bullies Cheryl into reality and, unexpectedly, provides her the love of a lifetime.

Tender, gripping, slyly hilarious, infused with raging sexual fantasies and fierce maternal love, Miranda July’s first novel confirms her as a spectacularly original, iconic and important voice today, and a writer for all time. The First Bad Man is dazzling, disorienting, and unforgettable.

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, Blaine Harden

A New York Times bestseller, the shocking story of one of the few people born in a North Korean political prison to have escaped and survived.

Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward

In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth—and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin

A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner of Island Books, has recently endured some tough years: his wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and his prized possession–a rare edition of Poe poems–has been stolen. Over time, he has given up on people, and even the books in his store, instead of offering solace, are yet another reminder of a world that is changing too rapidly. Until a most unexpected occurrence gives him the chance to make his life over and see things anew. 

Gabrielle Zevin’s enchanting novel is a love letter to the world of books–an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

How Did You Get This Number, Sloane Crosley

The hilarious New York Times bestselling literary essay collection from Sloane Crosley, the author of I Was Told There’d Be Cake and The Clasp.

Sloane Crosley, the brilliantly funny “fountain of observations” (Boston Globe), now takes readers from a bear-infested wedding in Alaska to a run-in with clowns in Portugal in a new collection of essays about the messiest and most unexpected dilemmas life has to offer.

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, Christopher Scotton

After seeing the death of his younger brother in a terrible home accident, fourteen-year-old Kevin and his grieving mother are sent for the summer to live with Kevin’s grandfather. In this peeled-paint coal town deep in Appalachia, Kevin quickly falls in with a half-wild hollow kid named Buzzy Fink who schools him in the mysteries and magnificence of the woods. The events of this fateful summer will affect the entire town of Medgar, Kentucky.

Medgar is beset by a massive mountaintop removal operation that is blowing up the hills and back filling the hollows. Kevin’s grandfather and others in town attempt to rally the citizens against the “company” and its powerful owner to stop the plunder of their mountain heritage. When Buzzy witnesses a brutal hate crime, a sequence is set in play that tests Buzzy and Kevin to their absolute limits in an epic struggle for survival in the Kentucky mountains

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, Elizabeth L. Silver

An unforgettable and unpredictable debut novel of guilt, punishment, and the stories we tell ourselves to survive
 Noa P. Singleton never spoke a word in her own defense throughout a brief trial that ended with a jury finding her guilty of first-degree murder. Ten years later, having accepted her fate, she sits on death row in a maximum-security penitentiary, just six months away from her execution date. 
Meanwhile, Marlene Dixon, a high-powered Philadelphia attorney who is also the mother of the woman Noa was imprisoned for killing. She claims to have changed her mind about the death penalty and will do everything in her considerable power to convince the governor to commute Noa’s sentence to life in prison, in return for the one thing Noa can trade: her story. Marlene desperately wants to understand the events that led to her daughter’s death—events that only Noa knows of and has never shared. Inextricably linked by murder but with very different goals, Noa and Marlene wrestle with the sentences life itself can impose while they confront the best and worst of what makes us human.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath’s shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity. Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America, Gilbert King

Devil in the Grove is the winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Arguably the most important American lawyer of the twentieth century, Thurgood Marshall was on the verge of bringing the landmark suit Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court when he became embroiled in an explosive and deadly case that threatened to change the course of the civil rights movement and cost him his life.

In 1949, Florida’s orange industry was booming, and citrus barons got rich on the backs of cheap Jim Crow labor. To maintain order and profits, they turned to Willis V. McCall, a violent sheriff who ruled Lake County with murderous resolve. When a white seventeen-year-old Groveland girl cried rape, McCall was fast on the trail of four young blacks who dared to envision a future for themselves beyond the citrus groves. By day’s end, the Ku Klux Klan had rolled into town, burning the homes of blacks to the ground and chasing hundreds into the swamps, hell-bent on lynching the young men who came to be known as “the Groveland Boys.”

And so began the chain of events that would bring Thurgood Marshall, the man known as “Mr. Civil Rights,” into the deadly fray. Associates thought it was suicidal for him to wade into the “Florida Terror” at a time when he was irreplaceable to the burgeoning civil rights movement, but the lawyer would not shrink from the fight—not after the Klan had murdered one of Marshall’s NAACP associates involved with the case and Marshall had endured continual threats that he would be next.

Drawing on a wealth of never-before-published material, including the FBI’s unredacted Groveland case files, as well as unprecedented access to the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund files, King shines new light on this remarkable civil rights crusader, setting his rich and driving narrative against the heroic backdrop of a case that U.S. Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson decried as “one of the best examples of one of the worst menaces to American justice.”

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton

Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga. Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.


Yes Please, Amy Poehler

In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book,Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), like when to be funny and when to be serious. Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book full of words to live by.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Delicious Foods, James Hannaham

Darlene, a young widow and mother devastated by the death of her husband, turns to drugs to erase the trauma. In this fog of grief, she is lured with the promise of a great job to a mysterious farm run by a shady company, with disastrous consequences for both her and her eleven-year-old son, Eddie–left behind in a panic-stricken search for her.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals, J. Maarten Troost

At the age of twenty-six, Maarten Troost–who had been pushing the snooze button on the alarm clock of life by racking up useless graduate degrees and muddling through a series of temp jobs–decided to pack up his flip-flops and move to Tarawa, a remote South Pacific island in the Republic of Kiribati. He was restless and lacked direction, and the idea of dropping everything and moving to the ends of the earth was irresistibly romantic. He should have known better.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals tells the hilarious story of what happens when Troost discovers that Tarawa is not the island paradise he dreamed of. Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles through relentless, stifling heat, a variety of deadly bacteria, polluted seas, toxic fish–all in a country where the only music to be heard for miles around is “La Macarena.” He and his stalwart girlfriend Sylvia spend the next two years battling incompetent government officials, alarmingly large critters, erratic electricity, and a paucity of food options (including the Great Beer Crisis); and contending with a bizarre cast of local characters, including “Half-Dead Fred” and the self-proclaimed Poet Laureate of Tarawa (a British drunkard who’s never written a poem in his life).

With The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Maarten Troost has delivered one of the most original, rip-roaringly funny travelogues in years–one that will leave you thankful for staples of American civilization such as coffee, regular showers, and tabloid news, and that will provide the ultimate vicarious adventure.

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
 
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.


This was a year of really excellent reading. If I had to pick a “best” it would have to be Between the World And Me.  I’ve never been so moved by a book that as soon as I finished it, I was compelled to start it right over again. Also, I didn’t realize what a sizeable portion of my reading list this year grappled with the very timely issues of race and racism in America. In a country where bigotry and vitriol are so pervasive that news sites have to disable commenting sections on entire categories of news, I feel like these works provide an opportunity for me to listen, learn and participate in these larger discussions without getting into a narrow-minded screaming match. Not only is the content of Men We Reaped, Devils in the Grove and Between the World and Me extremely thought provoking, but particularly in the case of Between the World and Me– oh the language. This book is a thing of tragic beauty.

What were the best books you read this year?