Educated by Tara Westover
Tara never attended school before she got a scholarship at 17 to Brigham Young University. She also studied at Harvard and Cambridge, earning a Ph.D. in history. This is her remarkable story of struggle, survival, and achievement. The youngest of seven children raised in rural Idaho by a Mormon survivalist and a homeopathic midwife, Tara was taught to read and to work. I was angry at her parents for neglecting her education, endangering her life in their junkyard and on overnight car trips, but also for not protecting her from an abusive sibling. Remarkably, two of her brothers also have Ph.D.s and helped Tara escape the mountains and learn to tell her story. Compulsively readable and utterly heartwrenching, this memoir is a good readalike for Jeannette Walls’ books.
Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious by Seth Kugel
I enjoyed reading stories about Seth Kugel’s travel adventures, and learned some useful advice for future travel. He wrote the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times for several years, and speaks Spanish, Portuguese, and some French. His suggestions are to spend more time in fewer places, to skip top attractions if they don’t really appeal to you, get suggestions from locals and fellow travelers, save some time on your trip for spontaneity, and try to be in the moment, not staring at your phone. Be skeptical of reviews and don’t spend more money than you need to for an enjoyable vacation. Many interesting anecdotes make for a quick read; suggested for armchair travelers and global explorers.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World by Stephen Brusatte
How many dinosaur species can you name? If it’s more than a few, you are likely to enjoy this terrific mix of memoir and popular science. Young paleontologist Brusatte travels the globe introducing the reader to other scientists and their exciting finds. I learned that Tyrannosaurus Rex fossils have been found only in western North America, and they were pretty smart, but couldn’t outrun a car. Some dinosaurs had feathers, and European dinosaurs were smaller than elsewhere. Brusatte, from Ottawa, Illinois, clearly has the job of his dreams, as this is the golden age of dinosaur research, with a new species of dinosaur discovered every week, on average. Perfect for fans of popular science or readers of Michael Crichton’s novel Dragon Teeth.
The Milk Lady of Bangalore: An Unexpected Adventure by Shoba Narayan
When Shoba, a journalist, and her husband Ram move from New York City to the southern Indian city of Bangalore, she is intrigued by the cows in her neighborhood. Shoba makes the acquaintance of Serala, the local milk lady. When her family, including two daughters, aren’t interested in drinking raw milk, Shoba boils the milk and makes yogurt and ghee. Gradually, she gets interested in the role of cows in south Indian culture, and decides to write some articles. Serala and her family guide Shoba, especially when Shoba and Ram decide to buy a cow in honor of their fathers for upcoming birthday celebrations. While I was only expecting to read about cows and dairy products, Shoba also relates the uses of cow urine and dung. A touching chapter explores the difficulty of placing a male calf in mostly vegetarian south India. In this vivid, heartwarming memoir and travelogue, Shoba, Serala and the cows are very good company.
Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
After Sheryl Sandberg’s husband Dave died, she worried that her two children wouldn’t have a happy childhood. Part memoir and part self-help book, co-authored with psychology professor and author Adam Grant, this book is full of case studies of people who’ve experienced great loss and how they’ve recovered and become more resilient. Raw and intimate, Sandberg’s account of her husband’s sudden death and the aftermath is moving. Facebook executive Sandberg admits she never appreciated the difficulty of being a single parent, although she has a large network of family and friends, a supportive boss, and is very wealthy. I’m not sure that someone who’s just lost a family member would find comfort in this book, but those who are wondering when and how they’ll recover might, along with people who want to support them. Sandberg appreciated when people asked, “How are you today?” and didn’t avoid talking about her loss. Sandberg talks about what she learned about grief and resilience, and how she and the kids got through their first year without Dave.
A candid memoir about Amy’s life in tiny Freeville, New York, with her teenage daughter, Emily, and with many family members nearby. Amy is an advice columnist, and travels to Chicago monthly to meet with her editors and appear on the radio show “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” A follow-up to The Mighty Queens of Freeville, this is frank and funny while also dealing with love and grief. Amy falls in love with local contractor Bruno, who has a house full of daughters, one of whom wonders why Amy keeps showing up for dinner. They get engaged, plan a fun wedding, and work hard to blend their families. Amy finds quiet time at the movies, in her car, and in the little house she uses as an office. She also visits her frail mother Jane daily. Eventually, Amy loses and mourns her mother, struggles with clearing out her mother’s house, regains her love of music, reluctantly reconnects with her father, and works on becoming her best self. I found this book hard to put down, and enjoyed Amy’s vivid descriptions of family and small town life.
Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly
Would you like to spend a year in space? That was the challenge faced by Scott Kelly, an astronaut since 1996. How would his absence affect his relationship with his two daughters, and his longtime partner, Amiko? What would happen to his health, especially his vision? Scott finds out, along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, as they spend 340 days on the International Space Station in 2015 and 2016. Scott thought school was boring until he read Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff as a teenager. An EMT, he later attended SUNY Maritime College, then became a Navy pilot, learning to land on aircraft carriers. Scott and his identical twin brother Mark were selected to the astronaut corps on the same day, and they agree to a twin study comparing their health during Scott’s year in space. Though the reader knows he returns safely to Earth, Scott still makes parts of his memoir suspenseful. In 2015, three supply missions to the International Space Station failed, and there were some issues with station rendezvous and docking. Scott also made an emergency spacewalk. Over the year in space, he had twelve crewmates. I was interested to learn that the Russian cosmonauts stay on their side of the station most of the time, hosting the others for Friday dinners and other celebrations. Scott keeps very busy repairing equipment, conducting science experiments, exercising, welcoming new crew members, taking photos, monitoring his health, and being interviewed, rarely getting time to relax and read his copy of Endurance, about Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. In November, public television will air a documentary about his journey, “Beyond a Year in Space”. What Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail learned and experienced during their year in space may help in planning for future voyages to Mars. This memoir is entertaining and compelling reading.