Friday, February 29, 2008

Brainiac - Ken Jennings

What do Ken Jennings and the Energizer Bunny have in common? For a few months back in 2004, Ken kept going and going and going, winning over 70 games on Jeopardy! and smashing earnings records. Brainiac is not just about his long hot streak on the show, but about his early love for trivia, and how trivia slowly grew into a passion for many in America during the 20th and 21st centuries.

Among other things, Ken interviews the author of several 1970s trivia books; talks to A.J. Jacobs, the author of The Know-It-All; explores how TV quiz shows were popular in the early days of television, lost their credibility due to scandal, slowly regained respect and attained new heights when "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" hit the airwaves; travels incognito to check out the pub trivia scene and, with a fellow Quiz Bowl alum and buddy, attends an annual 54-hour tournament in a small town in Wisconsin that grips townspeople both young and old with trivia fever that often spills over into obsession.

Jennings is a breezy, entertaining writer and displays the winning charm, modesty and wit we all came to know while he was the reigning Jeopardy! champion. As a bonus, he embeds trivia questions into the narrative and gives the answers at the end of each chapter. If you're tired of seeing a lot of ME in the MEmoirs you've read so far, Ken Jennings' Brainiac is a refreshing change. Ken realizes that he's just another fun tidbit of trivial knowledge.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree

Hillman, Laura. 2005. I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree.

"We are going to Brunnlitz, to Oskar Schindler's camp!" I recall the shouts of joy that filled the barrack at Plaszow. But the terrible place where I now stand is not that hoped-for refuge. It is Auschwitz. (1)

I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree is a memoir of one of the women saved by Oskar Schindler. Hannelore Wolff. Except for the two-page prologue, the book is a chronological account of Hannelore's life in Nazi Germany. The book opens with her attending a Jewish boarding school in Berlin. Since Hitler had come to power, it was dangerous for Jews to walk on public streets. In spite of the risk we walked along a tree-lined avenue in a suburb of Berlin, the ever-present yellow Stars of David sewn to our jackets. (3) One day she receives a letter from her mother with the news that her father has been taken by the Nazis and has died. Weeks later she receives another letter. A letter saying that her mother and two brothers will be deported to the East on May 8, 1942. In what could only be perceived as foolish-yet-brave behavior, Hannelore writes a letter to the Nazis saying that she wishes to be deported along with her family. They grant it. Now this family of four is facing the great unknown as they board a train that could lead them--probably will lead them--to their deaths.

Hannelore's story isn't always easy to read. Let's see if I can phrase this better. Those readers who aren't well-versed in Holocaust memoirs may find it difficult to read. The way the Jews are treated is despicable. It is callous. Hannelore's story is an account of some of the wrongs she faced, some of the wrongs she witnessed. But it is also a story of courage, of hope, of strength in a time of great despair. While sometimes surviving was a matter of luck--of chance--part of it had to do with will as well. Those that lost the will to live, those that gave up hope, those that gave in to despair... Starvation. Disease. Nazis. The Nazis were responsible either directly or indirectly for so many deaths. Hannelore's story of how she survived the various camps and came to be one of the lucky few saved by Schindler is amazing and fascinating and in places quite heartbreaking.

But this memoir isn't just a testament of survival, and it isn't just an account of the wrongs against the Jewish people. It is a love story as well, a story of how love can be found even in the darkest places, the most despairing times. A story of how one young man and one young woman found hope and love in each other. A story of how that love helped them endure.

I definitely recommend this one.

243 pages.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Defending Baltimore Against Enemy Attack

This little memoir, by Charles Osgood, has been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years and I am so glad I decided to finally read it. It was a quick, light look at an age long gone, seen through the eyes of a nine year old. This is the account of the memories Charles Osgood has from the year he was nine, 1942. Kids could be kids, even as our country was entering WWII. To see the whole review, visit my blog.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert review by Athena

A memoir of looking for pleasure, devotional and the balance of the two in Italy, India, and Indonesia. Some people have been critical of this bestseller for being self-absorbed. I've read a lot of travel books and memoirs, and they are all personal in one way or another. Travel is one of the ultimate self-confrontational and education experiences in life. Writing a memoir means evaluation of self, ideas, etc. I can understand why this book probably rubs some people the wrong way. Elizabeth Gilbert can be rather melodramatic writer. Yes, it can be amusing, but sometimes, the writing is seems affected and hammy especially in early chapters. It got a lot better as the book progressed and she traveled more. As she seemed to learn more about life, spirituality, and other people, the book became a fun and enjoyable read. Partly because the author and I share similar interests in spirituality, and there are few things she tried in the book that I have been pondering myself. The book is not the best or most educational travel memoir book, and it's very personal. Overall, it was a good read, but I understand why the narrative would not be everyone's cup of tea. (Cross posted from my blog at

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson review by Athena

I listened to the audiobook. It's quite a short book about Shakespeare, but it covers many details and the lack there of of William Shakespeare's life. Bill Bryson is an author I've liked for years, and he is consistently an informative and shrewd writer. This was my first time reading a book of Shakespeare's life, but I've been aware of the debates of the doubts of his identity, sexuality, genius, etc. What Bryson sought out to do in the book is to avoid speculation that seems to run rampant among scholars and other biographies about Shakespeare. He evaluates and summarises the small amount of real information about Shakespeare we have at present. The book is a good as a brush up on the Elizabethan and early Jacobite eras. I learned quite a bit about the evolution of the human language, people, dress, and cities of the time. Bryson avoids making any big and blanket statements about the kind of man Shakespeare was, but he does shoot down theories about the idea that William Shakespeare was actually Bacon/ Marlowe/ Earl of Oxford/ your mother, etc. He also provides insights from historians and scholars either directly interviewing them or referencing their work. I think it is a really good introduction to Shakespeare that can provide grounding for further scholarly study about the man and the myth. A quick and recommended read. Crossposted from my blog

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


PAULA DEEN: IT AIN'T ALL ABOUT THE COOKIN' was a fun book to read. You can read my review here.

I don't think I've ever read a memoir that was so open and honest. Paula told just about everything about her life - mistakes and all. She sounds like a really nice, hardworking person who deserves all the good fortune she has earned.

The book includes recipes at the end of each chapter. And they sound so good. I'm definitely planning a trip to Savannah to go to her restaurant.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed reviewed by raidergirl3

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda

full review at my blog

Alda is a wonderful writer who has lived a very interesting life, the son of vaudeville parents. He writes well, and I just sat back and enjoyed his stories, as he grows and tries to find his place in the world as a son, actor, and family man. If you like Alda, this book will solidify your opinion - smart, funny, wry, and devoted family man. It was nice to read a story where a Hollywood actor has been married once and stayed married for a long time.

Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt

Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt
460 pages

Full Post Here

I picked this book up probably almost 10 years ago (when the movie was being released) and have tried to read it two or three times in that span. According to my dog-eared page, my last attempt took me to page 60. I don’t remember exactly why I gave up on the book, but probably because I thought it was incredibly boring. :) I was determined to get this book off my TBR shelf once and for all—and I did!!

Angela’s Ashes is Frank McCourt’s memoir of his coming of age. His memoir begins when he is a small child growing up in New York; his family keeps growing in number despite their extreme poverty, and eventually his aunt’s pay for their way back to Ireland to live. The McCourt’s situation continues on a desperate path in Ireland as his father, Malachy, finds it difficult to keep a job and when he does have a job, he drinks his paycheck before his family can see a dime (or shilling?? I am a little fuzzy on my foreign currency in the early 1930s-40s). Frank must endure daily ridicule from his classmates, members of the Catholic church, and others in general as he tries to make sense of his life and make the most of the little he has been given.

The book outlines Frank’s desire to become a man and be able to do the things that adults do—such as drink the pint, earn a living and his way to America, and do other things that I don’t need to mention. Angela’s Ashes is written from Frank’s point of view at the various stages of his life—so the narrative becomes much more detailed the older Frank is. While this type of narration was difficult at the beginning of the book when Frank is a small child (and also a great part of why I dislike James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist…), Frank’s perspective became one of the things that I enjoyed most about the book. Sometimes it was funny to see Frank trying to make sense out of his life and some of the “rules” that he had to endure, but at other times it is heartbreaking as Frank doesn’t really quite understand what is happening to his family as they continue to struggle to survive.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Girl Named Zippy - First Book in Challenge

Title: A Girl Named Zippy
Author: Haven Kimmel
Genre: Memoir
Published: 2001
Completed: 2/09/08
No. of Pages: 275
Rating: 4/5*****

A Girl Named Zippy is a wonderful and poignant memoir. It's quite obvious that Haven Kimmel came from a family with it's fair share of problems and hardships, but this memoir is not a pity fest but a loving and glowing story of growing up poor in the Midwest. Called Zippy because of her speed in getting around, Haven is a young girl with a wonderfully skewed view of the world. How Kimmel was able to tell this story all through a child's eyes and voice is remarkable. In today's world I have no doubt that she would be labeled ADHD, and probably medicated, but back then she was just a rambunctious child. I am about 10 years older than Kimmel, but so many of her observations reminded me of my own family and growing up relatively poor in the late '50's early '60's. Her story of being told she was adopted (by her older siblings of course) was laugh out loud funny and reminded me of that same cruel story we told my younger brother. Everything in this book rang true and I loved her memories and the fact that there was no finger pointing. She was an obviously loved child and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book so much that I have already bought the sequel, She Got Up Off the Couch. I can't wait to get to it.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Witness to Nuremberg

Nuremberg[Cross-posted at Ex Libris]

Title: Witness to Nuremberg

Author: Richard W. Sonnenfeldt

Rating: 4/5

Last year I saw the author of this book, Richard W. Sonnenfeldt, on BookTV. Sonnenfeldt, in 1945 and at the age of 22, was the lead interpreter for the prosecution at the trial of Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg, Germany. His story, that of a young German Jew who managed to escape Nazi Germany and eventually found himself a soldier in the US Army and an interpreter to and for those very persons who tried so hard to obliterate his existence, was fascinating. I just had to read this, so I bought the book the next time I went to Borders.

Sonnenfeldt begins the book in 1945-46 with his experiences as an interpreter in Nuremberg. There, he spent hundreds of hours interviewing (and sometimes interrogating) Hitler's notorious henchmen. Sonnenfeldt felt scorn and disgust for most of them such as Joachim von Ribbentrop, "a platitudinous, babbling one-time champagne salesman and social climber who had become Hitler's foreign minister" (pg. 24). There was one, though, he felt belonged in a "class of his own" - Hermann Goring, Hitler's evil second in command who organized and managed the Gestapo, the Nazi terrorist machine. Sonnenfeldt wanted to know, more than anything else, why the German people would so willingly want war. When he asked Goring this question, this was the response:

"Why of course the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war, neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship or a parliament or a Communist dictatorship. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country." (pg. 30-31)

Sonnenfeldt spends the first two chapters of the book discussing the trials at Nuremberg. The rest of the book is the story of his remarkable life journey that brought him there. Sonnenfeldt describes his childhood, living with his parents (both respected doctors) and his younger brother in a small German town. They were non-practicing Jews who were more concerned with abiding by Prussian principles than with religious beliefs. But when the Nazis began their persecution of the Jews (both practicing and non-practicing), Sonnenfeldt's parents realized they would have to leave Germany. In 1938, Sonnenfeldt's mother managed to get the two boys enrolled in a school in England. Sonnenfeldt and his brother were very happy there, but in the summer of 1940, the English began interring males age 16 and older who held German passports. Sonnenfeldt was forced to leave England and his brother behind on an interment ship. His parents were finally able to escape Germany to the United States, but it would take Sonnenfeldt another year to be reunited with them. When he did, he enlisted in the Army and eventually found himself being asked to serve as an interpreter.

This memoir was less about the trial at Nuremberg and far more about first hand experience and an insider's look at the horrors brought upon a large group of people, German as well as many other nationalities, by the Nazis simply because of their ethnic background. I liked the book well enough, although I had hoped for more detail on the interviews and events at Nuremberg. The writing was nothing out of the ordinary, but the story itself was incredible as only non-fiction can be.

Sharon (Ex Libris)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Originally published in 1969; 281 pages.

I was mesmerized by Maya Angelou's lyrical presentation of the high and low points of the first eighteen years of her life. Poignant and meaningful, each chapter recounts part of the life experiences that made Angelou the adult she became. These experiences include being raped at age eight by her mother's boyfriend, learning to love books through the encouragement of an adult friend, being subjected to numerous acts of racism, and working as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.

My full review can be found on my book blog.

This is my first book for this challenge.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

By Kim L

I first heard about this book when Oprah was interviewing Elizabeth Gilbert on her show, and my initial thought was “yeah it would sure be great to have the time and money to just up and travel around the world for a year,” which is what Gilbert did when she was attempting to recover from a bitter divorce and her ensuing depression. I wrote this book off thinking that it sounded awfully frivolous. However, it ended up in my tbr pile thanks to my aunt loading me up with a pile of books, and I’m glad I read it. Gilbert is a terrific and very relatable writer and what sticks out during this memoir she wrote about her journey towards spiritual recovery is that she not only funny, but very very honest about herself, her struggles, and her passions in life.

Gilbert embarked on a year traveling to Italy, India, and Indonesia in order to find inner peace to recover from her demons. In each respective country she had a different focus, and they are (you’ll never guess this one): eating, prayer, and love.

I visited Italy for one short week while studying abroad, so I really enjoyed the section where she describes wandering the streets of Rome, eating gelato and pasta every day, making new friends with the Italians she meets, learning Italian and in essence studying pleasure. “Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here, I admit it. While I have come to Italy in order to experience pleasure, during the first few weeks I was here, I felt a bit of panic as to how one should do that…. When I realized that the only question at hand was, “How do I define pleasure?” and that I was truly in a country where people would permit me to explore that question freely, everything changed. Everything became… delicious. All I had to do was ask myself every day, for the first time in my life, “What would you enjoy doing today, Liz?”

To read the rest of my review, click here.

Finished Two

Very brief reviews at my blog:

Monday, February 4, 2008

Trish's List

I've had my list finalized for a little while, but I'm behind...for whatever reason. There are certainly enough days in each day, but it never seems like it!! :) Most of these are memoirs, but they were already on my there!
  • Saint Therese of Lisieux (Autobiography)
  • Anne Frank Remembered - Miep Gies (Biography)
  • A Million Little Pieces - James Frey (Memoir)
  • A Long Way Home:Memoirs of a Boy Soldier - Ishmael Beah (Memoir)
  • Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt (Memoir)
  • A Rumor of War - Philip Caputo (Memoir)
  • Tender at the Bone - Ruth Reichl (Memoir)

I actually finished Tender at the Bone last week, so the link will take you to my review. When I get home from work I'll try to remember to post it again.

Thanks for the great challenge!!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Tennischick's Book List


dreams from my father [a story of race and inheritance] - barack obama

makes me wanna holller [a young black man in america] - nathan mccall

running with scissors - augusten burroughs


the world of placido domingo - daniel snowman

freud, a life for our time - peter gay

freud, biologist of the mind -- frank j. sulloway

the life of langston hughes [vol ii 1941-1967] - arnold rampersad

Persepolis 1 and 2 by Marjane Satrapi

Anyone looking for a very interesting memoir, in graphic novel form, should check out Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and the sequel, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. It was my first graphic novel, but not my last.

Marjane Satrapi tells of her childhood in Iran pre-revolution, and then how things changed during the revolution, her education in Europe and then her return. Fascinating and frustrating. Now a movie, I haven't seen yet, but would be interested in.

My full review is here at my blog.

Born on a Blue Day

For most people, numbers are only useful. There are some people who find mathematics elegant, but probably few who find individual numbers beautiful in the sense that Daniel Tammet sees them: each richly layered with shape, color, texture, and emotion. Tammet has an intimate and personal sense of the numbers 1-10,000, with prime numbers acting as especially bright, smooth, guideposts in his mental landscape. High-functioning on the autistic spectrum, Tammet's memoir is split between struggling with the social impairments of his condition and exploring and sharing the amazing gifts it bestows. To read my full review, please visit my blog