Category Archives: True story

** The Body Papers by Grace Talusan

The Body Papers recounts the author’s move from the Philippines to the US as a young child, her experience of racism, and abuse at the hands of her grandfather. It’s a complicated immigrant’s story, and also a complex family story.

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** Sacred Duty by Tom Cotton

Ever wondered how military funerals can be “perfect”? You will learn all the secrets in Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour at Arlington National Cemetery. (Spoiler: it’s mostly about rehearsing everything, over and over again, and being able to occasionally tolerate a bug up your nose.) The author mixes the history of Arlington Cemetery with the practical secrets of keeping uniforms in perfect shape, rain or not. It goes on a little too long, and I wish he did not feel compelled to call everyone buried at Arlington a hero, but it’s a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to run The Old Guard.

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** My Parents: An Introduction / This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hemon

My Parents: An Introduction / This Does Not Belong to You are two related books presented in one (a format completely lost on the Kindle where I read them!). One tells the story of the author’s family before and after the war in Bosnia, and later in Canada.The other contains his own childhood memories.

I found the family history to be the more interesting of the two, and not only because it takes place in the context of a major conflict. He talks about his parents with kindness and respect as they first attain respectability, before the war, and then go through exile and emigration to end up in a country full of friendly people but also strange, for them, customs.

 

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** Mind and Matter by John Urschel

John Urschel is the famous (and only!) NFL football player who also has a Ph.D in Mathematics. In Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football, he recounts his career as a football player and as a very serious mathematician. He makes a strong case that it’s entirely possible (and fun, albeit exhausting) to pursue more than one passion, and he seems to have kind words for everyone he encountered along the way. He even manages to speak evenly about the Penn State football scandal and the brain injury issues that have shaken the NFL–and made him quit the sport. An inspiring book, regardless of your interest in either football or math. (I did skip over some descriptions of football games, I must admit.)

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** No One Tells You This by Glynnis Macnicol

No One Tells You This recalls the author’s struggle as she turned 40, with an ailing mother in another city, a pregnant sister without a partner (and with two small kids), a demanding job–and no partner or child of her own. I could have done without the bellyaching that alternates between anger against those who expect her to be married and have children and the longing for a long-term relationship, or the extended descriptions of fancy trips (she is a travel writer), but there are many insightful and sweet moments.

She speaks movingly about her joy when her mom gets a room in the one retirement home she actually liked; funnily about  how she gets her nephew and niece dressed, fed, and to school; thoughtfully about how her mom, in her dementia, remembers two husbands, who are really the same man, but a man who underwent a big change midlife.

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*** Dissenter on the Bench by Victoria Ortiz

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become somewhat of an icon, and Dissenter on the Bench: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Life and Work shows why, through both her private life, especially her unusually egalitarian marriage, and some of her pivotal legal cases. Pitched for a younger audience, with the limitations this implies, but inspiring!

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** The Beneficiary by Janny Scott

The Beneficiary: Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of My Father traces the life of the author’s father and grandparents, as they live on a luxurious estate established by a wealthy ancestor, on the abundant money flowing through trusts. It’s true that rich people have the same problem as regular folks–but money provides a wonderful cushion against hardship, be it alcoholism or uninterested parents. The author seems a bit tone death to all that, as she starts the book complaining about the high caterer’s bill from her father’s funeral.

There are some fascinating characters in the book, notably her indomitable grandmother who maintained a formidable wardrobe clearly labeled for parties and horse riding, her main occupations. The organization ion the book, with frequent time-changes, is sometimes difficult to follow as the family frequently reused the same first names.

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