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Bloggers

 

Naturalist, Hunter, Inventor, Millionaire

BirdseyeAlthough the name Clarence Birdseye immediately conjures up images of frozen vegetables, the subject of historian Mark Kurlansky’s Birdseye:The Adventures of a Curious Man accomplished so much more. This fascinating biography shows the man as a curious problem solver and opportunist, always quick to devise inventive solutions while making money along the way. Birdseye was a naturalist from an early age, as well as an avid hunter. At the age of ten, young Clarence earned his first shotgun with the profits he made by shipping live muskrat to an English aristocrat who was stocking an estate. He promptly taught himself the art of taxidermy, even attempting to teach others for money.

 

As a student at Amherst studying the sciences, Birdseye spent his free time “wandering the fields with a shotgun on his shoulder.” He was forced to drop out due to lack of money.  His job as an assistant naturalist with the U.S. Biological Survey stoked his interest in cooking such exotic meats as chipmunk, mice, and rattlesnake. A later job with the Department of Agriculture sent him packing to the Bitterroot Valley of Montana as part of a group looking to study Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Birdseye put his hunting skills and enthusiasm to good use, killing a variety of mammals that host the carrier of the disease, the wood tick. His contribution to the study was notable.

 

Luckily his wife, Eleanor, was a patient woman who didn’t seem to mind her husband’s frequent absences. A later adventure saw him in the frozen land of Labrador where his interests turned to fox farming. His journal and letters to his family (which eventually included six children) were full of descriptions of food, especially recipes featuring unusual provisions like seal meat and porcupine.A deep interest in food preservation led him to begin experimenting with various freezing techniques, beginning with snow pack. Birdseye realized that freezing food is far from a straightforward process if one desires a palatable thawed product. Eventually his determination and sharp sense of observation paid off, leading to innovations that revolutionized the way people eat.

 

Birdseye:The Adventures of a Curious Man, holds wide appeal for anyone who enjoys intriguing nonfiction. The self-made man comes alive through Kurlansky’s evocative descriptions and choice details. Readers who enjoyed his previous classic titles (which included mentions of Birdseye) Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, and Salt: A World History, will find much to like here.

 

 

Paula G.

 
 

Listen and Laugh

BossypantsTina Fey’s bestselling memoir, Bossypants, published by Hachette Audio, claimed top honors at the 2012 Audie Awards, announced last week at the Audio Publishers Association's 17th annual Audies Gala  in New York. “Like going out for coffee with an old and funny friend” is how judges described this year’s winner for Audiobook of the Year. Noted for delivering “on all fronts,” Fey was recognized for her stellar performance and a smart marketing campaign that included both print and social media.  Bossypants also won in the Biography/Memoir category.

 

Among other works celebrated, Shatner Rules: Your Guide to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large by William Shatner with Chris Regan, won in the Humor category. Produced by Penguin Audio, the opinionated Shatner narrates in his inimitable speaking style, "his rules for life with great panache and shards of autobiographical detail." Dispensing worldly wisdom is all in good humor in the octogenarian’s sometimes messy universe.  For a complete list of winners, visit The Audies website here.

Cynthia

 
 

The Ties That Bind

Father's DayThe Bar Mitzvah and The BeastExploring the bond between fathers and sons requires time, and sometimes great distance. Two authors travel across the country through the peaks and valleys of an emotional roller coaster toward accepting their children for who they are. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Buzz Bissinger peels back his life’s raw layers in Father's Day: a Journey into the Mind and Heart of my Extraordinary Son. The father of adult twins, Bissinger deals openly with self-pity, guilt and the disappointment at having an intellectually challenged son. He desperately wants to know twenty-four year old Zach better as they embark on a cross-country road trip to all the places Zach has lived. The journey is not easy for either. Bissinger is frustrated by shortcomings they both possess, including his own psychological failings. To tell Zach's story, Bissinger shifts back and forth from present day to past recollections. He authenticates his son's voice by omitting punctuation to capture Zach's enthusiastic ramblings. In doing so, he defines a voice he as a father comes to appreciate as happy, contented and worthy of celebration.

 

Another journey takes place in Matt Biers-Ariel's The Bar Mitzvah and the Beast: One Family’s Cross-Country Ride of Passage by Bike. The author's 13 year old son, Yonah, has been an atheist since kindergarten days; there are no plans for a bar mitzvah here. Instead, to mark Yonah’s rite of passage, Biers-Ariel suggests an ambitious cross-country cycling trip that becomes a family affair. Add to the journey a social action petition on global climate change, overly stuffed panniers, a temperamental used tandem bicycle called "the beast," and relentless convection oven heat for much of the trip. Biers-Ariel is quick to share his awe of nature and spiritual and environmental self-reflection with his son. In the end this travel memoir is a poignant coming of age story sure to please adults and teens alike.

Cynthia

 
 

Father of Mine

A Good ManA Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver, is a love letter to a man who was constantly referred to as “A Good Man” at the time of his funeral in 2011. His son Mark Shriver wanted to explore what made so many friends, journalists, and family members talk about his father in those terms. This memoir brings Sargent Shriver to light through episodic remembrances. Mark Shriver freely admits that he needed a village of former colleagues as well as his own family and friends to unearth the memories that he didn’t realize were still buried in his mind. While the list is long, this is largely a son’s fond thoughts about the man who made him who he is today. This is a personal look into the man who worked hard for what he believed in, yet remained a humble, beloved father to his five children.

 

Founder of the Peace Corps, Head Start, and along with his wife Eunice, the Special Olympics, Sargent Shriver was one of the larger-than-life figures of the last century. His accomplishments are legion. Jacqueline Kennedy even asked him to take responsibility for planning JFK’s funeral.

 

Documented with two inserts that include many Shriver and Kennedy family photos, the book is a nice addition to the canon of books that explore what many consider “America’s Royalty”. Particularly moving is the sad decline into dementia and Alzheimer’s that felled Sargent Shriver, and the situation his wife and children dealt with in its wake. But this is mostly a celebration of a good man and a good father, well told by a son who is rightfully proud of his dad.

Todd

 
 

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Born to be BradYou Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-Nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other) chronicles the career of the multitalented and lovely Vanessa Williams. Readers will know her most recently from her appearance on Desperate Housewives, but her earliest claim to fame was in 1983, becoming the first African-American Miss America. She was soon forced to resign when nude pictures surfaced. Recovering from the scandal, Vanessa became a sensation in the world of popular music, theater, movies, and eventually television. Her loving, supportive mother Helen, a retired vocal music teacher, has always been instrumental in her success. Helen herself offers some insightful thoughts on what it is like to raise a famous daughter. You Have No Idea, co-written by mother and daughter, has a light, conversational tone and includes wonderful personal family photographs. It is perfect for fans who would like to get to know Vanessa better, and for anyone looking for an inspirational story of a strong bond between mother and daughter.

 

The compulsively readable Born to be Brad: My Life and Style, So Far, is the first memoir from reality TV show star and fashion icon Brad Goreski.  Best known as Rachel’s assistant on the Rachel Zoe Project, Goreski is immediately recognized for his colorful clothing palate, bow ties, and dark retro glasses. Here he recounts stories from his troubled childhood in Port Perry, Canada, where his sense of glamour made him the odd boy out at school. Who knew styling Barbie dolls would eventually lead to an internship at Vogue? Not only does he dish on his rise to fame, but he also offers fashion tips to readers: items every woman needs in her closet, what to wear when traveling by air, and how to pack for a weeklong vacation in ten minutes.

Doug

 
 

Heroes for All

Heroes for My DaughterHeroes for My SonBrad Meltzer is best known for his popular thrillers, but he is a renaissance man with involvement in various media platforms. Currently the host of the History Channel TV series Decoded, he co-created the television series Jack & Bobby, and wrote the DC Comics Identity Crisis superhero series. If all that isn’t enough, he has a new bestseller, a couple of movies in the pipeline, and a clothing line!

 

In Heroes for My Daughter he collects the stories of 55 extraordinary role models for girls. These varied “heroes” include Abraham Lincoln, Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, Judy Blume, and the passengers of United Flight 93. This powerful book debuted at number ten on The New York Times’ list of bestselling advice books. Surprisingly, the companion title, Heroes for My Son, has been optioned by Adam Sandler’s film production company.  Meltzer wasn’t sure what to expect, “Here was a non-fiction [book] I collected, with Jim Henson, and Rosa Parks and Mr. Rogers in it. I did it out of pure love for my son, but how do you make a story out of that? They found an incredible story in that."

 

Meltzer also launched an apparel company that ties into these inspirational books. Tees for kids and adults feature cartoon versions of inspiring figures such as George Washington, Muhammad Ali, Lucille Ball, and Amelia Earhart.  “It’s nothing I ever thought I’d be doing,” Meltzer says. “I realized this could be a way to change the dialogue about the way people talk about heroes.” Ten percent of the profits from the sales of these shirts at Ordinary People Change the World benefit charity.

Maureen

 
 

Indian Nation

Rez LifeRez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation by David Treuer is part memoir, part history, and part cultural study of Indian reservations. There are approximately 310 Indian reservations in the United States today; Treuer says reservations are as “American as apple pie.” Americans are captivated by Indians yet many people will go through their entire life without knowing an Indian or spending any time on a reservation.

 

Life on a reservation or “rez life” is often associated with poverty and alcoholism. Treuer does not shy away from these realities. There are heartbreaking stories of unimaginable poverty throughout the book. Numbers also reveal a bleak existence: no running water until the late 1990s, 80% unemployment rates and a median household income of $17,000. This does not sum up “rez life” completely, though. Treuer writes, “What one finds on reservations is more than scars, tears, blood, and noble sentiment. There is beauty in Indian life, as well as meaning....We love our reservations.”

 

Rez Life is not a dismal book, by any means. There are touching (and often very humorous) stories of family life throughout. Treuer reminds us that not all Indians are poor and not all reservations are poor. The wealthy Seminole nation is the current owner of the Hard Rock Cafe franchise. This proves, as Treuer puts it, that the Seminoles have been “kicking ass and taking names for a very long time.”

 

Treuer is the perfect writer for this book. He is a journalist and creative writing professor who knows how to synthesize a massive, complicated subject into personal, engaging stories. He has a keen attention to detail and is a master storyteller who also grew up on a reservation. Treuer is an Ojibwe Indian, raised on Leech Lake Reservation in Northern Minnesota. His father is an Austrian Jew and Holocaust survivor, his mother a tribal court judge. Indeed, his personal story (interspersed throughout the book) makes for a fascinating biography. Readers who enjoy biographies, modern history and cultural studies will not want to miss Rez Life.

 

Zeke

 
 

The Pioneer Woman Does It All

Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My FrontierCharlie the Ranch DogBlack Heels to Tractor Wheels

Ree Drummond is a successful blogger, Food Network star, and author.  Her down-home comfort foods have really struck a chord with readers and cooks from all walks of life. Drummond’s success began with her blog The Pioneer Woman, which has a legion of followers, receiving 24 million hits monthly.  The blog covers her family life on an Oklahoma cattle ranch, her efforts to homeschool her children, and of course, cooking.  The recipes are delicious and easy to follow, and readers love that Drummond illustrates them with step-by-step photos.

 

It seemed like a natural transition for Drummond to publish cookbooks.  Her most recent, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier, is filled with tasty recipes color photos, and Drummond’s anecdotes and comments.  You’ll want to try the recipes for yourself when you see her homemade glazed doughnuts, cowgirl quiche, and “Knock You Naked” brownies!  The book quickly became a bestseller, and there are now more than 480,000 copies in print.

Drummond recently started filming the second season of her Food Network show “The Pioneer Woman”.  Like her blog, the show features her life on the ranch, her family, and her favorite recipes.  Viewers will also be interested to know that she has published a picture book called Charlie the Ranch Dog that features her family’s beloved basset hound.

 

It’s not all about the recipes, though.  To learn more about Drummond’s life, try her memoir Black Heels to Tractor Wheels: A Love Story, which tells the story of how she met her husband Ladd Drummond who she affectionately calls Marlboro Man in the book and her blog.  Ree originally planned to go on to law school, but everything changed when she met Ladd.  She shocked her family by marrying him and moving to the ranch. The rest, as they say, is history.

Beth

 
 

Baseball's Odd Couple

Driving Mr. YogiFor Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry spring training is a renewal of their friendship. Every spring former Yankees’ pitching superstar Guidry drives to the Tampa airport and picks up former Yankees’ catcher and Hall of Famer Berra. The two go the ballpark, watch games, eat dinner together, and trade stories.  Every day for the next month follows the same pattern. Driving Mr. Yogi is the story of the bond between two men who on the surface appear to share only baseball in common.   The catcher from a poor Italian neighborhood in St. Louis and the pitcher from Cajun swamp country were born a quarter of a century apart, and yet today Guidry calls Berra his best friend.  New York Times reporter Harvey Araton first shared this story last year in an article in the paper and expands on it in this humorous and thoughtful narrative. 

 

It all began in 1999, when Berra was reunited with the Yankees following a 14 year self-exile that began when he was fired by George Steinbrenner.  The rift between the two men led Berra to cut all ties with the Bronx Bombers. The Boss finally offered an apology and Berra went back to spring training where Guidry befriended him. Berra had been a clubhouse mentor during Guidry’s playing days and Ron knew the young players would benefit from Berra’s impressive knowledge of the game and its history. Sure enough, Berra’s casual batting tip changed Nick Swisher's season, and the new ballplayers savored the anecdotes about famous old-timers such as Ted Williams and Don Larsen.    

This is a story of baseball and the rituals of spring training, but it is also a funny and affectionate story of friendship that transcends generations. And yes, it is the Yankees, but even the most ardent Orioles fan will appreciate this engaging story of two likeable sportsmen!

Maureen

 
 

A Year in the City of Lights

Paris in LoveEloisa James is the pen name for Fordham literature professor Mary Bly. The daughter of the award-winning poet Robert Bly and short story author Carol Bly, James began writing romances because her husband (an Italian knight!) wanted to wait until they were more financially secure to have a second child. Today, she has approximately 3.5 million books in print in 13 different languages and is a frequent inhabitant of the New York Times bestseller list. 

 

James decided to move her family to Paris in 2009, following her mother’s death and her own struggle with breast cancer.  James chronicles this exhilarating year abroad in Paris in Love: A Memoir.The cast includes the aforementioned husband, Alessandro, also a professor and the only one who could speak French. Her children, Anna, 11 and Luca, 15, round out this appealing family. Both were initially less than impressed with French schools and society. For more on this delightful family, take a look at the book's own website.

 

James’ regular enthusiasts will savor this funny slice of life, and new readers will quickly be drawn in to this excellent memoir which is also a look at marriage and family and even includes recipes! Eat, Pray, Love’s Elizabeth Gilbert noted that, “Reading this memoir was like wandering through a Parisian patisserie in a dream. I absolutely loved it.”

 

Readers who appreciate the humorous tone to James’ writing, should definitely try some of her novels which are infused with wit and modern sensibilities. Start with her Happily Ever After series (A Kiss at Midnight, When Beauty Tamed the Beast, and The Duke is Mine), which are retellings of famous fairy tales and can be read in any order. After all, who doesn’t like to read a "Once upon a time" story every now and then? 

Maureen