The Light We Carry

light we carry jacket

The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times by Michelle Obama

In this engaging memoir, the former first lady shares inspiring and funny stories, and explores her toolbox of techniques and strategies she uses to cope and thrive during challenging times. While Michelle is very accomplished as well as famous, in other ways she’s just like many of us. She’s a worrier, is not naturally self-assured, and occasionally says things she wishes she hadn’t, and dislikes change.

Full of anecdotes about herself and her family, I especially enjoyed reading about Marian Robinson, Michelle’s mother. Marian is best known for moving to the White House with the Obamas to be there for young Malia and Sasha. Practical and down-to-earth, she encouraged Michelle and her brother Craig to become self-sufficient as soon as they started school, but she was also an active listener whenever her children needed to talk, and told them (especially when having issues with teachers or other kids) that they would always be liked at home, and calms Michelle when she frets too much, even today.

Michelle shared that Barack is still not punctual and tends to work too hard. She often encourages him to take time to relax. Their two girls are now grown and sharing an apartment in Los Angeles, where they have finally learned to use coasters under cold drinks. Barack sent them information about earthquakes, and offered to have a government official give Malia and Sasha a briefing on earthquake preparedness (that they politely declined), which I thought was charming.

I suspect that Michelle is a champion list maker; how else could she accomplish so much? She shares that she still has two staffers to help her with her schedule and travel, and thanks those she has worked with in the White House and at the Obama Foundation. During the early part of the pandemic, Michelle taught herself to knit in order to relax, and has already learned to knit sweaters.

Part of the toolbox that she shares includes how to be comfortably afraid, and why being well prepared comes in handy when you’re giving a convention speech and two of the three screens aren’t working. She plans ahead, organizing get-togethers with her friends, old and new. Michelle also talks about coping with feeling “other” or different. For her, it wasn’t being a smart black girl that was so hard when she was growing up; it was being tall. Later, it was being a woman, and then being a famous black woman. Resilience and perseverance were helpful.

I haven’t read her 2018 memoir, Becoming, but if you did, you’ll most likely enjoy reading this book. Throughout The Light We Carry, Michelle is encouraging, inspiring, surprisingly relatable, full of hope and frequently funny.

Brenda

Looking Up

Looking Up: The True Adventures of a Storm-Chasing Weather Nerd by Matthew Cappucci

Matthew Cappucci, meteorologist and storm chaser, shares his lifelong fascination with the weather in this compelling memoir. Readers will be caught up in Cappucci’s adventures as he experiences and clearly explains all kinds of weather events. A precocious weather nerd, he gave a presentation to the American Meteorological Society at age 15, and created an atmospheric sciences major at Harvard, including classes at M.I.T. At 25, he currently holds at least three jobs reporting on the weather. His recent article in the Washington Post describes unseasonably cold October weather in the Eastern U.S., complete with colorful maps and charts. As Cappucci, well equipped with a hail cover for his windshield, a hard hat and safety goggles, carefully plots paths of potential tornadoes or travels to Alaska or North Dakota for the northern lights, her shares plenty of interesting information on meteorology, vividly described. He is enthusiastic about all kinds of weather (and his beloved Waffle House), and it’s infectious. If, like me, you viewed the August 2017 solar eclipse from partly cloudy Woodridge, well outside the path of totality, Cappucci is likely to inspire you to travel about 150 miles south or southeast to view the April 2024 solar eclipse.

Brenda

London’s Number One Dog-Walking Agency

London’s Number One Dog-Walking Agency: A Memoir by Kate MacDougall

Kate has a dull entry level job at Sotheby’s auction house in London, appropriate for her university degree, but not very fulfilling. It isn’t going well, and Kate impulsively starts a dog-walking business. Her mother is upset, but partner Finlay, though not a dog lover, is supportive. In 2006, dog walking hasn’t yet caught on in London as it has in American cities, so Kate starts small. She quickly learns that the hardest part of the job is working with the dogs’ owners. Gradually Kate needs to hire other dog walkers, and meets rival Agnes. Each chapter is focused on a particular dog, their owners, and the neighborhood where they live. Even readers who prefer cats may enjoy this charming memoir, a coming-of-age tale with lots of heart and humor. The quirky personalities of the dogs are lovingly described, as Kate shares her successes and failures in business, and life. Muddy, messy, and joyful, this is an uplifting read.

Brenda

Recent Popular Science Books

I just finished reading First Steps: How Walking Upright Made Us Human by Jeremy DeSilva, and I was reflecting on how much I enjoy reading popular science books. I may only read a few each year, and I read them much more slowly than fiction, but I like learning about something new to me and appreciate the fine writing by a scientist or journalist who has really delved into a topic and is enthusiastic to share some of what they’ve learned with non-scientists. Other books I read this year include Kindred by Rebecca Wragg Sykes and The Arbornaut by Meg Lowman. Here is a list of recent popular science books in the library’s collection, along with a few about to be published. The variety of topics covered is remarkable, and I hope to enjoy more of these titles soon. Happy reading!

Brenda

Recent Popular Science Books

Biberdorf, Kate. It’s Elemental: The Hidden Chemistry in Everything

Black, Riley. The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World

Bryson, Bill. The Body: A Guide for Occupants

DeSilva, Jeremy. First Steps: How Upright Walking Made Us Human

Dettmer, Philipp. Immune: A Journey into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive

Ellenberg, Jordan. Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else

Everts, Sarah. The Joy of Sweat: The Strange Science of Perspiration

Frank, Adam. Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth

Kaku, Michio. The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything

Knoll, Andrew. A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters

Kolbert, Elizabeth. Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

Levesque, Emily. The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers

Lowman, Margaret. The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us

Macfarlane, Robert. Underland: A Deep Time Journey

Nestor, James. Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

Panciroli, Elsa. Beasts Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution

Phoenix, Jess. Ms. Adventure: My Wild Explorations in Science, Lava, and Life

Prescod-Weinstein, Chanda. The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime and Dreams Deferred

Raff, Jennifer. Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas

Raven, Catherine. Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship

Roach, Mary: Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law

Scales, Helen. The Brilliant Abyss: Exploring the Majest Hidden Life of the Deep Ocean and the Looming Threat That Imperils It

Seager, Sara. The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir

Sheldrake, Merlin. Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures

Simard, Suzanne. Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

Widder, Edith. Below the Edge of Darkness: A Memoir of Exploring Light and Life in the Deep Sea

Wohlleben, Peter. The Heartbeat of Trees: Embracing Our Ancient Bond with Forests and Nature

Wragg Sykes, Rebecca. Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art

Zimmer, Carl. Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive

From Scratch

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home by Tembi Locke

This memoir is about love, family estrangement and reconciliation, cancer, a little girl, Sicily, and food.

Tembi Locke was studying in Florence, Italy, when she met Saro, a Sicilian chef. They later married and lived in New York City, before moving to Los Angeles for her career as an actor. Tembi’s Black Texan family embraced Saro, but Saro’s parents and sister wouldn’t attend their wedding in Florence. Years later, the family reconciled and welcomed Tembi and Saro’s daughter, Zoela. Saro’s long illness further reconnected the families. After Saro’s death from cancer, Tembi and young Zoela spent parts of three summers with Nonna, Saro’s mother, in tiny Aliminusa, Sicily. Nonna was a wonderful cook, and the memoir finishes with a number of Sicilian recipes. This summary doesn’t begin to convey the love, the struggles of caregiving, or the pain and joys of family connections.

The summers in Sicily are the most vibrant and memorable parts of this memoir, with a wonderful sense of place, history, and, of course, the wonderful food. The author has a helpful website for those who are caregiving, grieving, and their friends: thekitchenwidow.com. The Smallest Lights in the Universe by Sara Seager is a readalike.

Brenda

Where the Deer and the Antelope Play

Where the Deer and the Antelope Play by Nick Offerman

Carpenter, actor, comedian and author Nick Offerman narrates the audio version of his new memoir. In 2019 and 2020 he travels to Glacier National Park to hike with two famous friends and a guide, visits a sheep farm in England where he helps rebuild a stone wall, and buys an Airstream trailer and travels from California to Texas, Oklahoma, and Illinois with his wife Megan Mullally and their dog. During his travels, Offerman shares amusing anecdotes, reflects on nature, public lands and their origin, the pandemic, common sense, and food. This is an entertaining and thought provoking read, with perhaps a bit too much time on his soap box. Excellent armchair travel with plenty of humor to enliven the book. Readalikes include the author’s Paddle Your Own Canoe, A Walk in the Woods and The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson, The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks, and The Longest Road by Philip Caputo.

Brenda

The Boys

The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Ron Howard & Clint Howard

Fans of the Howard brothers will enjoy this upbeat, candid memoir of their childhood in show business, including their parents’ improbably journey from Oklahoma to Hollywood. Rance and Jean Howard were both actors, and Rance also did some writing. They never hit the big time, except in their parenting of Ron and Clint. Rance was Ronny’s dialog and acting coach when he was in The Sound of Music and The Andy Griffith Show and when Clint was in Star Trek, and one parent was always on the set, making it challenging when young Clint was filming Gentle Ben in Florida. Rance taught the boys to approach their roles with emotional truth and relatability, understanding their character’s motivation. Sometimes the whole family was on a set together, including the 1970 film Wild Country. They lived modestly, and the boys enjoyed baseball and basketball, with Ron coaching Clint’s basketball team, and Clint showing Henry Winkler how to pitch softball. Ron was bullied a bit in school, and Clint struggled with an addiction to alcohol and drugs, but the family stayed close, working together into their parents’ later years as Ron became a successful director and Clint a much in-demand character actor. Full of behind the scenes stories from beloved television shows and movies, this is an entertaining and engaging read.

Brenda

Beginners

Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning by Tom Vanderbilt

Journalist Tom Vanderbilt was inspired by his young daughter to step off the sidelines and learn some new skills. He describes his experiences as a beginner in chess, singing, surfing, drawing, juggling, ocean swimming, snowboarding, and helping to make a wedding band to replace one lost while surfing. I really enjoyed the sections on learning to sing, in which he takes private lessons and then joins a no-audition Britpop choir, and surfing, where he gets lessons and surfs in places ordinary and exotic. Vanderbilt also explores the educational psychology of how and when we learn new skills, and finds that it’s challenging to be an adult beginner, but very worthwhile. His writing style is engaging and and readers may be inspired to try something new. Readalikes include The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Range by David Epstein, and Grit by Angela Duckworth, and the author’s first book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do.

Brenda

Ms. Adventure

Ms. Adventure: My Wild Explorations in Science, Lava, and Life by Jess Phoenix

Full of adventure on land and sea, Jess Phoenix describes her education and adventures in becoming a geologist and volcanologist, from Hawaii to Ecuador. She’s a member of the Explorers Club in Manhattan, and has run for Congress. Some of her most compelling stories including research on an underwater volcano, and in parts of Mexico where the danger comes from clashes between drug cartels and the police. She has also had her share of misadventures and injuries, not necessarily work related, and struggled to show real science during filming a Discovery television show. Her ultimate goal is to make science more inclusive and share her love of science. Readers of real life adventure or popular science will enjoy Jess’s story, which will be published March 2.

Brenda

 

How to Astronaut

How to Astronaut by Terry Virts

Retired NASA astronaut Terry Virts offers an entertaining and informative look at what it’s like to be an astronaut. Colonel Virts first flew to the International Space Station on the shuttle Endeavor, helping install the cupola module. Later he spent 200 days on the space station in 2014 and 2015, launching on a Soyuz spacecraft with Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and Italian astronaut Samantha Christoforetti. Humorous anecdotes abound, including the difficulties of getting his extra-large head into a helmet, and learning to cut Christoforetti’s hair. The failure of three cargo ships to reach the space station postponed their return date, but Virts still gives a thumbs up for the quality of food they ate. He slept better in zero gravity than on Earth; verified by one of the many science experiments he worked on. Three spacewalks and filming an IMAX documentary were highlights. If you’ve ever wondered what life in space is like, Virts covers everything I could think of, from adapting to zero gravity to what he missed most on Earth. The most sobering chapter is when he served as family support for the crew of Columbia, and was with the family members when the shuttle exploded. An Air Force Academy graduate, Colonel Virts was a test and fighter pilot with the Air Force before he joined NASA. Virts thoroughly prepared for his spacewalks in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (a huge pool) before his spaceflights. What if scenarios are also described, as well as the wonder of being in space and looking back at Earth. This memoir is a great read for space buffs. Virts is also the author and photographer of View From Above : An Astronaut Photographs the World.
Brenda