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September 2015

Labor Day Reading List: Better Late than Never

Labor Day snuck up on me this year, which is ridiculous, considering that a. Labor Day was at late as it could possibly be this year, and b. Labor Day is my favorite holiday of the year.*

In past years I have been doing some lists of great books about work. This year I thought I'd look over my last year of reading (roughly) and see if any of the books I read had anything to do with work, jobs, labor, etc. Here's what I came up with. Links go to my posts about the books, when available. Must-reads are in bold.


Catherine Bailey's Black Diamonds: The Downfall of an Aristocratic Dynasty and the Fifty Years that Changed England. About coal mines, the miners, but mostly the people who once got rich off those coal mines.

Michael Gibney's Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line

Megan Hustad's More than Conquerors: A Memoir of Lost Arguments Hustad's parents were Christian missionaries.

Sandeep Jauhar's Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician.

Michael Lewis's Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt. Book about finance and flash trading by one of my favorite authors of all time.

Judy Melinek's Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner

Mimi Pond's Over Easy. Graphic novel; waitress/artist memoir.

Ronald Rice's My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop

Brigid Schulte's Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time

Gina Sheridan's I Work at a Public Library

Victoria Sweet's God's Hotel. Doctor's memoir.

Lizz Winstead's Lizz Free or Die. Winstead is a comedian and one of the original creators of The Daily Show.

The following titles are about homemaking and parenthood, both of which certainly strike me as work.

Shannon Hayes's Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture

Wednesday Martin's Primates of Park Avenue

Jennifer Senior's All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood


Susan Gloss's Vintage. Women's fiction about a woman who owns a vintage clothing shop.

Stuart Rojstaczer's The Mathematician's Shiva. About math, and math professors and theorists. So great. One of my favorite novels of the year.

Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members. About academics, written entirely in the form of recommendation letters. A great book; a million times better than I'm making it sound.

Kathryn Stockett's The Help. Oh my God, what a terrible book. Set in the American South during the 1960s; about African American women who worked as "the help" in the homes of white women. I read it when I was reading about civil rights. I was going to say something (at length) about how I thought reading this book actually made me dumber, but I won't. Oops. Just did.

Daphne Uviller's Super in the City. Chick lit set in New York City; about a woman who becomes the super of an apartment building her parents own.

Michelle Wildgen's Bread and Butter. A story of brothers, set in the restaurants they own.

Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. I was not a fan.


Cleo Coyle's On What Grounds. Mystery set in a coffee shop.

Chrystal Fiedler's Scent to Kill: A Natural Remedies Mystery. A crime-solving aromatherapist. (Really.) Honestly, I got these two titles just because I love reading about jobs, so I'm always suckered into these mystery series that focus on specific jobs, and they always turn out to be horrible.


*No religious ceremonies, no celebration of war, no enforced family gatherings, heralds fall (the best season of the year). The perfect holiday.

New Nonfiction: 7 September 2015

A new series, published each Monday, sharing a selected list of new nonfiction titles to be published during the week. List originally published at The Reader's Advisor Online.

Sorry for lack of commentary this week--the weekend got away from me.

Bolz-Weber, Nadia -Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People
Deen, Paula – Paula Deen Cuts the Fat: 250 Recipes Lightened Up
Faderman, Lillian – The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle
Flanders, Judith – Making of Home: The 500-Year Story of How Our Houses Became Our Homes
Gabis, Rita – A Guest at the Shooters’ Banquet: My Grandfather’s SS Past, My Jewish Family, a Search for the Truth
Hynde, Chrissie – Reckless: My Life as a Pretender
Jefferson, Margo – Negroland
Kellow, Brian – Can I Go Now?: The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood’s First Superagent
Kelly, Ray – Vigilance
Kubicek, Jeremie – 5 Gears: How to Be Present and Productive When There Is Never Enough Time
Oates, Joyce Carol – Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age
Perkins, Tony – No Fear: Real Stories of a Courageous New Generation Standing for Truth
Pierce, Wendell – Wind in the Reeds
Reid, Joy-Ann – Fracture: Obama, the Clintons, and the Democratic Divide
Russakoff, Dale – The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools
Simon, Marie Jalowicz – Underground in Berlin: A Young Woman’s Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany
Suskind, Dana – Thirty Million Words: How To Build Your Child’s Brain
Thaler, Linda Kaplan – Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary
Tweedy, Damon – Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine
Winik, Jay – 1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History

So. What do you think? Anything look good there?

Jacob Slichter's So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star: Reading that's way more fun than actually being a rock star.

For whatever reason, lately I've been rekindling my love affair with the late-90s band Semisonic.* Certain bands just hit you right at the right time in your life, and Semisonic was one of those bands for me.

So somewhere in the foggy mists of my brain I remembered that Semisonic's drummer, Jacob Slichter, actually wrote a memoir about his time with the band, titled So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star. And I thought, why not? Time to read it.

And I enjoyed it so, so much.** Slichter dishes on the entire music business, from signing with a music company, to negotiating contracts, to photo sessions, to video production, to touring--really every aspect of the business you could possibly think of. This book was published in 2004 and the band did most of its recording between 1996 and 2001, so I don't know if any of the information given here is still accurate. But it was a fascinating behind-the-scenes work memoir of what turns out to be a surprisingly horrific and un-lucrative job.

Of course, this book is also a heartbreaker, because Semisonic only recorded three CDs as a band and never quite achieved the megastardom they (and all rock stars, I would guess) really dreamed about. The biggest hit they ever had, Closing Time, was really only lucrative enough to help Slichter upgrade from his old used car to a slightly newer used car. And although Slichter doesn't really focus on personal details, he does discuss how the band (and particularly its lead vocalist, Dan Wilson) dealt with adversity when Wilson's daughter was born extremely prematurely.***

There were so many enjoyable bits here. In this excerpt, Slichter betrays the frustrations of being adored by few but ignored by many:

"When nightfall brought the headline acts onto the stage, I stood in the crowd and watched. Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst pointed across the throng. 'Link your arms together. Everyone. Link your arms. We're a big family. A big fucking family. No one can take us apart from each other, all right?' Seconds later, tens of thousands of fans unlinked their arms and pumped their fists in the air as they shouted along with Durst, 'I did it all for the nookie!'...

After the show [a different show where they played], a Japanese woman introduced herself and told us she had flown all the way from Tokyo to see us. I was starting to regard such extraordinary expressions of adoration with impatience. Why were our fans a select group of considerate and sweet people who went out of their way to see us and bring us gifts from afar? Why couldn't they be the dull-witted masses who pumped their fists and shouted, 'I did it all for the nookie'?" (pp. 271-272.)

Now, actually, that quote makes Slichter sound like something of a jerk. But he's not. I think anyone who's ever made good art that they're proud of, but would still like to make some money on it (and fails), will get what he's talking about.

I've loved a lot of bands, and I hope to love a lot more. But I don't think I will ever again love a band the way I loved Semisonic. I mean, watch this video.

Could they be any cuter? I'm so grateful to Slichter for showing me another side of their experience.

*CRjr's favorite CD is Dan Wilson's solo release, Free Life; Wilson is one of the founding members of Semisonic. In other hilarious news, if you follow that link, you'll see I talked about Wilson's music the same day I announced we were expecting CRjr. And now it's one of his favorite CDs. WEIRD.

**I also took it along on a trip to my in-laws', and it was lovely to have something good to read while there, because I couldn't sleep. That happened over last Christmas too, when I was lucky enough to have James Cain's fabulous novel Mildred Pierce to keep me company. It sucks to get two hours of sleep while dealing with small children and other family, but having a good book to get you through the lonely hours makes all the difference.

***She weighed 11 ounces at birth. Can you believe that?

Rosemary Sullivan's Stalin's Daughter: Now THAT's a biography.

A while back I read a short newspaper article about a woman named Svetlana Alliluyeva, who for many years lived in Spring Green, Wisconsin, which seemed a bit odd to me, because Svetlana Alliluyeva was the daughter of Stalin. So when I saw the cover of Rosemary Sullivan's biography Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva, I thought, I want to read that.

But then I got it home, and looked it over, and thought, wow, 623 pages, what are the chances of me getting that read? Turns out: pretty good. I started reading it one night and then I couldn't put it down for the entire next week.

For whatever reason I've always been interested in Russian history, but I think you could enjoy this biography even if a. you weren't that interested in Russian or world history, or b. you don't know anything about Russian history. I actually knew very little about Stalin before reading this book, and I must say I didn't learn a ton about his politics or more reprehensible policies from reading it.* This biography stays fairly firmly rooted in his family life and the experiences of his family members, which are more than varied and terrible enough to fill the 600 pages.

Alliluyeva was an incredible woman who struggled to live as normal a human life as she could, even though it really proved impossible for her to ever really escape her father's shadow. Her triumphs of intellect and will, coupled with her weaknesses and her loneliness make for fascinating reading. This is one of the best books I've read so far this year.

Here's your excerpt:

"She was called unstable. The historian Robert Tucker remarked that 'despite everything, she was, in some sense, like her father.' And yet it's astonishing how little she resembled her father. She did not believe in violence. She had a risk taker's resilience, a commitment to life, and an unexpected optimism, even though her life spanned the brutalities of the twentieth century in the most heartrending of ways, giving her a knowledge of the dark side of human experience, which few people are ever forced to confront. Caught between two worlds in the Cold War power struggles between East and West, she was served well by neither side. She had to slowly learn how the West functioned. The process of her education is fascinating and often sad." (p. xvii.)

*Although this book does illuminate many things about what might be called the Russian character, or culture, particularly of the twentieth century and previously.