I did not start this month’s reading thinking I would hit both faux and genuine graphic novel memoirs, but here we are.
1. Chasing the Flame: One Man’s Fight to Save the World, by Samantha Power: I love Samantha Power, the person with whom who I would most like to trade professional lives, and so I bought this based on her byline. She chronicles the life of Sergio Vieria de Mello, almost all of which was devoted to his work for the U.N. until his death in 2003. De Mello is a character of the old school—lothario, global citizen, intellectual, activist. His worst days with the U.N. were spent behind a desk; his best were in the field, working for the rights of refugees. Many of the humanitarian missions he served on, such as in East Timor, I’ve barely even heard of, and yet he spent years trying to redevelop infrastructure. If you’re a U.N. nerd like me, definitely pick this one up.
2. Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple: You’ve likely already read Semple’s excellent Where’d You Go, Bernadette? There are definitely shades of Bernadette in this story about a woman who decides today is the day she will get control over her life—never anticipating, of course, that today is also the day things go completely off the rails. FYI, this is the faux graphic novel memoir.
3. Fun Home, by Allison Bechdel: I pretty much know Bechdel from her infamous test, which many of my favorite movies fail miserably (but not Drop Dead Gorgeous!). This is the real graphic novel memoir, and it chronicles Bechdel’s very unusual upbringing, the family business, her complicated relationship with her father and her own journey of self-discovery.
4. My Own Words, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams: RGB is a national treasure and this collection of her writings and public addresses will appeal equally to those who love the law and those who love hearing smart women say interesting things. Yes, some inclusions are famous opinions she authored, or opinions about those opinions. Others are tributes to everyone from Antonin Scalia to Gloria Steinum to the unsung wives of early Supreme Court justices. Probably my favorite passage was her introduction before a speaking engagement by her late husband, Marty. This book was easy to read and will make you think. What more could you possibly want?
5. Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8?, by Ethan Brown: A few years ago I read Lost Girls by Robert Kolker and felt thoroughly ashamed of myself. It was about the discovery of several bodies on the North Shore of Long Island, and when I’d heard on the news that all the victims were prostitutes, I mostly wrote the story off. Prostitution is dangerous, right? Kolker profiled the women, their families, their backgrounds and why they might have made such a dangerous choice. He wrote about why people like me don’t necessarily care about people like them, and it was so true it stung. This is more of the same. I’d never heard of the Jeff David 8 before, probably because these women were drug addicts and sex workers, but they deserve to have their story told and their killer found.
6. The Opposite of Spoiled, by Ron Lieber: I live in an area where the Tooth Fairy often leaves $20 a pop. It’s insanity, and I strongly feel it is not doing our kids any favors. I heard about this book the same way I hear about many interesting things—on NPR. Many of the anecdotes are about big, extreme gestures that no one is expected to emulate (such as selling your home, buying a smaller one and donating the balance to charity). Others, like learning not to shy away from mentioning money in front of your children, are counter-intuitive but make all kinds of sense. Personally, so far we’ve implemented discussing one thing we’re grateful for each night at the dinner table. It’s been interesting watching my stepson work through the concept of gratitude and what exactly it means.
And the best things I read in October…
7. Gemina, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff: Just to reiterate: I do not read or buy or like science fiction. I do not. BUT. Last November I read Illuminae and absolutely loved it and this second offering did not disappoint. Hanna lives on jumpstation Heimdall, where her father is commander. Nik is her drug dealer, member of the infamous House of Knives gang and all-around lowlife. They don’t have much in common, except that when a gang of corporate assassins comes to wipe out the jumpstation and everyone on it, they’re the only two on the loose. This is not my thing at all, and I still thought it was great.