you're not edithThe English student in me cringes whenever someone says, “Let’s read an essay” because in my mind, the term “essay” is still equated with the five-paragraph, three-reasons-why type essays that you had to write in high school. When I was flipping through Allison Gruber’s You’re Not Edith, a book exclusively filled with autobiographical essays, I noticed that instead of the traditional format, her essays read like chunks of a story broken apart for relief, flashback, comedy, and a wide variety of other purposes. I started reading You’re Not Edith and discovered that I was in fact reading an autobiography with much shorter chapters, something that my brain found easier to digest because there were breaks where I could stop if I had to go do something else and I found that I was able to finish this book much quicker than I was other books. Books containing autobiographical essays have begun to grow on me.

In You’re Not Edith, Allison Gruber reflects upon her entire life as she’s experienced it so far. Just like in her life, Gruber takes risks when she explodes her life into these essays for readers to dissect. She pulls no punches as she describes how she tried to use her fascination with Diane Fossey to help her win her girlfriend in high school or how she was diagnosed with breast cancer as she was teaching at the collegiate level. Gruber is a hilarious writer who speaks with shocking candor and isn’t afraid to tell the truth about her struggles with cancer and how she figured that even though she wouldn’t allow others to take care of her, she would still be able to care for Bernie, a little dachshund who didn’t fit her perfect ideal of the Edith dog, but ended up being exactly what she needed.

I encourage you to pick up this book to check out her feelings on weddings, her father’s mental problems, and how she came into her own through music, drama, English, and many other interconnected things.

listen to your motherAs most children will tell you, the phrase “Listen to your mother” is something that you hear from a young age to even adulthood. After all, mother knows best. But how do all those mothers seem to magically know about all those mothering tricks? Read this book to find out. Ann Imig has brought together a wide variety of essays in her book, Listen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now that draws opinions and experiences of motherhood and, more widely, from parenthood in general from the point of view of children, parents, and grandparents.

The title of this book may be “Listen to Your Mother,” but the views presented within this collection range from surrogacy to LGBTQ parenting to adoption to first-time moms to being empty nesters to special-needs parenting and many, many others. Some stories are heart-breaking, some are happy, while others still seem to be a mixture of both. Imig and the writers are voicing their tales of motherhood, the ones that they feel are uniquely their own, but have come to realize that the underlying tales of family are relatable across age, race, and family type. One son speaks of how he was raised by two mothers, two men discuss how it is to raise their children without a mother, while another discusses how her mother raised her to be strong and independent and how she hopes to raise her daughter the same way. Check out this book to read the hilarious and intriguing stories presented within.

Some of the essays in this book have come from the Listen to Your Mother movement, a speaker series with a Youtube Channel and a website put together by Imig with the mission to support motherhood by giving voice to motherhood and celebrating the diversity present within motherhood by live, original reading performed onstage.

essays after eightyLet me first admit that the way I discovered this book was not when I placed it on my “to-be-ordered” list or when I stumbled upon it by happenstance in the library. Instead, I was talking about BookFace Friday. This event happens every Friday when librarians and other bookish people find books with people’s faces as the cover, pose with them as their actual face, and post pictures on their social media accounts. (Still confused? Check out the Instagram page for BookFace Friday.) As I was looking up examples to show, I found someone using this book as their face. I was instantly intrigued by the title and immediately wrote it down to order/read.

Donald Hall, former U.S. poet laureate, constructed Essays After Eighty as a way to describe for others the vantage point of life at very old age. The essays Hall has written for this collection intricately weave subjects like death, aging, being limited when you reach old age, traveling in foreign countries, honorary degrees, his love of garlic, and just what is actually important to you when you reach his age. Describing for readers his deep love for his home, the deceased love of his life, and how to deal with growing older are just some of the topics Hall broaches in this enduring collection. Hall extends back to his past in some essays describing scenes that stand out in his mind to the present where he spends his time at Eagle Pond Farm.

Be sure to check out this book to read more about Hall’s life as a biographer, children’s author, and as a human being trying to figure out how to deal with everything old age has thrown at him.

you don't sweat muchYou Don’t Sweat Much for a Fat Girl: Observations on Life from the Shallow End of the Pool is a collection of essays by author Celia Rivenbark in which she talks about everyday situations that she either finds charming or have succeeded in getting her all riled up.

Rivenbark has written books previous to this one, all applying her signature Southern style and wit. Read along as she writes witty, humorous, and sometimes sarcastic essays talking about how she read a study that people with twiggy legs are at twice the risk for heart disease compared to *normal* women(she swears it’s true, people!), how yoga is supposedly good for you(beware the farting..), and that she never really understands why and how people get so excited for elementary school science fairs(it shouldn’t be called a FAIR since there aren’t any RIDES). Heavily employing satire, Rivenbark discusses Snuggies, how she’s not opposed to TSA profiling at airports, the explosion of social media, her dreaded friend: Menopause, and many other relatable topics.

Enjoyed this book? The library owns other titles by Rivenbark: We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier, Stop Dressing Your Six-Year Old Like a Skank, Rude Bitches Make Me Tired, Belle Weather, Bless Your Heart, Tramp, and You Can’t Drink All Day if You Don’t Start in the Morning (which is only available in an audiobook).

true stories, well toldAre you looking for a break from a traditional fiction book? Are you looking for a shorter read or something that you won’t feel guilty for only reading a section of and then skipping the rest? If yes, take a look at True Stories, Well Told: From the First 20 Years of Creative Nonfiction Magazine.

This is an anthology of essays taken from Creative Nonfiction. I enjoy reading collections of essays as they allow me to just read short snippets of a book without having to commit to the whole book. Lee Gutkind and Hattie Fletcher edited this collection and brought together twenty essays from the first twenty years of this magazine. Creative Nonfiction is a magazine that was founded in 1993 with Lee Gutkind as the founding editor.

Confused about what creative nonfiction is? In the introduction, Susan Orlean talks about how people know what creative nonfiction is, but they just don’t realize it. Let Gutkind describe the history of creative nonfiction, as well as his founding of the magazine, in his closing essay. Creative Nonfiction was formed as a way for the contributors to alert readers about the wide variety of topics and writing styles that could be included under the genre of creative nonfiction. All the essays selected for this anthology cover relatable topics that readers themselves may have come into contact with during their lives.

Ranging from humorous to inspiring, follow along as these select twenty essays delve into topics like butterflies, being a mother, dealing with death, abuse, history, healthcare, and discovering who you really are.

crazy salad and scribble scribbleCrazy Salad & Scribble Scribble: Some Things about Women & Notes on the Media is a combination of two essay collections by Nora Ephron: Crazy Salad and Scribble Scribble.

Throughout her career, Ephron was known by many different titles: producer, director, and writer. She worked on such iconic movies as “Julie & Julia”, “Silkwood,”Heartburn” (both movie and book), “You’ve Got Mail”, “Sleepless in Seattle”, and “When Harry Met Sally”. Before she shot to fame, Ephron began writing a column about women for Esquire magazine in 1972. Crazy Salad & Scribble Scribble is a selected compilation of her essays all about women and the media that she wrote throughout her tenure at the magazine.

Ephron delights readers with her musings on how she got her first bra and her mom’s rather brash opinion on what she felt her daughter needed. Add in other opinionated, yet funny and witty, descriptions of issues that all women have faced, but not blatantly talked about, from what’s happening with our bodies, dealing with other people’s opinions about how women should live, and of course, the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Ephron ends this essay collection with Scribble Scribble, her various thoughts on multiple different people in the media and the platforms that they choose to show themselves.

Read these essays to gain better insight into just what made Nora Ephron, Nora Ephron.

These true tales range from the funny and flippant to the gritty and gruesome. Give nonfiction audio a try! You may find that nonfiction (which doesn’t always have a strong narrative thread you need to follow) is ideal for listening in stops and starts.

  • Devil in the White City by Erik Larson; this gripping tale of a serial killer at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago is so spellbinding, you’ll want to extend your commute to hear more!
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey, read by the author: this book is shriekingly funny. Truly one of the best audio books around – Fey is witty and direct, never sappy, and always gut-bustingly hilarious.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; a universally praised book that mixes science with history and family drama.
  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling Lexie reviewed the book, and I agree with her: this book is FUNNY. You’ll want to be best friends with Mindy by the end.
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron: Ephron’s candid observations on life and getting older are enjoyable and crisply humorous.
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers: The gritty true story of the tribulations of Abduhlraman Zeitoun and his family in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • At Home by Bill Bryson, read by the author: see my review for a longer rant on the excellence of this very excellent book.
  • The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell, read by the author: You know Sarah Vowell’s voice already – she vocalized for Violet in Pixar’s The Incredibles. You’ll also recognize the many luminaries/musicians/comedians/TV personalities who make cameos in her delectable book – Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert, for example. Oh, and it’s full of intelligent and interesting essays about history and American culture, too.

My favorite essay in John McPhee’s book, The Silk Parachute is “My Life List.” McPhee talks about the weirdest things he’s ever eaten, and, in doing so, he describes an encounter he had with that icon of the 70’s, Euell Gibbons. He shared boiled dandelions and water mint tea (remember the Grape Nuts commercial?) with Euell.

This  seems mighty tame compared to the weasel, lion, whale, grizzly bear and bee spit meals he had.

McPhee’s great skill is to make any subject, no matter how arcane, fascinating. He supplies just the right detail and sets the scene and before you know it, you’re sucked in.

In this series of essays written for the New Yorker, he often refers to feedback he received from legendary editor, Wallace Shawn.

magazinesIt was a wonderful Sunday to spend outdoors, provided you’re the star of a murder mystery set in turn of the century London.  Idle away the afternoons of the April-May monsoon season with a couple picks from DPL.

If you have the attention span of a gnat and enjoy nonfiction like myself, it’s a good time to skim through Best American Essays 2008.  Here an editor has reviewed and picked the best of this genre.  You know, the kinds of thought pieces the Quad-City sophisticates and literati chortle over at all the premiere area intellectual salons.

We buy an edition every year, as well as Best American Magazine WritingBest Nonrequired Reading, and Best American Short Stories.  Think how many of those little advertiser cards would get strewn on your floor had you actually parsed through each magazine.