There was no major emergency that motivated John Marshall to uproot his family for six months of global volunteer work. It was lots of little things: declining intimacy with his wife of 20 years; the desire for quality time with their teenagers; and a general sense of boredom at work. Their travels do change their lives, in ways both expected and highly surprising.
Patton Oswalt’s career has ranged from earnest stand-up comedy to material that requires an encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture to simply follow along. In Silver Screen Fiend: Learning about Life from an Addiction to Film, he describes how a lifelong love of cinema led him from hubris to humility and back on more than one occasion.
The Christmas season is full of touchstones: Santa with the Rockettes at Radio City, small kindnesses from strangers and boisterous shouts of, “God bless us, every one!” These new books pair nicely with a crackling fire on a frosty night.
“Running a totalitarian regime is simple: tell the people what they’re going to do, shoot the first one to object, and repeat until everyone is on the same page.” Such was life in Ukraine for young Lev Golinkin and his family, and it might have been tolerable had he not also suffered daily beatings in school for being a Jew. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the family fled to Austria where they lived in a refugee hotel before immigrating to the U.S. A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka is the story of that journey and of Golinkin’s struggle to reclaim his identity.
If you've ever seen a story about food stamps or poverty and wondered how people end up there, you need to read Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America. Author Linda Tirado wrote a post about why the poor make such “terrible decisions,” it went viral, and she offers an expanded take on the subject here.
Upon hearing that Randall Munroe, NASA roboticist turned webcomic all-star, is writing a collection of “What If?” columns, a number of you will immediately make plans to buy the book. Don’t worry, you’ll love it. But this review is for the rest of you, who are curious if a bit confused.
Multitasking at work through texts and emails, pumping breast milk for your baby, then grabbing a decaf latte solo as a treat afterward: Is this you? It turns out our collective drive for greater efficiency is leading to lower productivity, reduced immunity and general malaise.
One day in January 2010, Aubert de Villaine received a cardboard tube in the mail. Inside was a map of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, his vineyard, more detailed than any map he himself owned. There was also a note threatening to poison his vines unless a one million euro ransom was paid. Despite the detailed map, De Villaine doubted the threat, which turned out to be real; the vines were in fact poisoned. Shadows in the Vineyard is not a conventional true crime story, but then, poisoning the rarest and most expensive wine in the world is not your average crime.
While teaching a group of volunteers about marine stewardship one morning, researcher Ken Balcomb was confronted with a crisis the likes of which he'd never seen: an inexplicable mass stranding of beaked whales. While racing up and down the Bahamas coastline, trying to save lives or at least preserve specimens for autopsy, he struggled to comprehend what could have caused the whales such trauma. When the U.S. Navy's sonar program was implicated, Balcomb was torn; proud of his own service record, he nonetheless broke confidentiality about Navy practices to try and save the lives of whales. Joining forces with environmental lawyer Joel Reynolds, the two face off against a government in the throes of a national security panic in War of the Whales.
Fond looks back at profound dysfunction have become so commonplace, it’s a wonder there’s not a “crazy parenting” section in bookstores to help the next generation of memoirists get a leg up. At this point, crazy itself is not sufficient reason to publish. In Take This Man, Brando Skyhorse, who won a PEN/Hemingway Award for his first novel (The Madonnas of Echo Park), captures the details of his dysfunctional upbringing with note-perfect language and does so in pursuit of the truth about his family.