NonFiction: Anxiety, Kentucky Folktales, Meghan McCain and Michael Ian Black Hit the Road, and Life of Buddy Guyby Larry Cox on Jul. 03, 2012, under Uncategorized
Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith (Simon & Schuster, $25)
All of us feel anxious ever so often but Daniel Smith made anxiety his everyday companion.
Smith, who has written extensively for such major publications as The New York Times, Slate, and The Atlantic, claims that more than 40 million Americans have symptoms of anxiety including sweaty palms, heart palpitations, and an unstoppable assault of irrational fears. In his highly readable new memoir, Smith traces the history of anxiety, from homesickness and stage fright to panic attacks and nervous breakdowns. He turns the condition inside out and even ends on a high note.
During the sixteen years Smith has suffered from anxiety, he consulted with six therapists, took a variety of medications, and explored the wisdom of experts from Freud to Aaron Beck, the founder of cognitive therapy. How he learned to understand his condition and neutralize the anxiety that threatened to derail his life is a fascinating story.
“Monkey Mind” is an invaluable contribution to the understanding of mental disorders and how they can be conquered.
Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man by Mark Kurlansky (Doubleday, $25.95)
While working as a fur trapper in Labrador, Canada, during the early years of the twentieth century, Clarence Birdseye was dismayed that the only food available during the long winters was heavily preserved and salty. One day he noted that if left outside in the Arctic winds while wet, fresh vegetables froze in such a way that they maintained their integrity after thawing. This observation started him on the road to food preservation.
While working for the U.S. Fisheries association, he tackled the problem of keeping fish fresh. Armed with a bucket of brine and a fan, he developed the patented Birdseye freezing process. He started a company in Gloucester, Massachusetts, beginning with cod and eventually expanding to include other meats, poultry and vegetables. The company, which still bears his name, changed the way we preserve, store, and distribute food in a very profound way.
America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom by Michael Ian Black and Meghan McCain (Da Capo, $26)
Three thousand miles, two strangers, and one filthy RV are not the components that one would think could trigger one of the most rollicking travel books of the year.
It began with an unlikely, zany idea. Meghan McCain and Michael Ian Black, total opposites and virtual strangers, agreed to strike out on a cross-country tour in order to encounter the real America, up close and personal.
Black, a Democratic liberal, gun-fearing atheist and son of a lesbian former Social Security employee, and McCain, daughter of U.S. Senator John McCain, and a Republican blogger, were unlikely travel companions but somehow they made it work. While on their trip, they met a wide array of people including strippers, hookers, U.S. Senators, soldiers, anarchists, Muslims, and Mormons.
What is perhaps most surprising is that McCain and Black found ways to move beyond their differences and communicate with each other. They were even able to civilly discuss the perplexing problem of how to defuse American politics which has become nasty and personal. As Meghan writes, if she and Black can find common ground, anyone can. Perhaps that is the takeaway message of their book.
“America, You Sexy Bitch” is written and feels more like blogs bouncing back and forth between McCain and Black but that is what makes the content so readable and appealing. This is not a book without faults but it is insightful and appealing in a strange way. Climb aboard for a surprisingly fun summer read.
The Day the World Discovered the Sun by Mark Anderson (Da Capo, $26)
This past month, Venus passed directly between the sun and the Earth, appearing as a tiny dot traversing the sun’s surface. To hundred forty-three years earlier, when the same event occurred, scientists used measurements from the “Venice transit” to calculate the physical dimensions of the solar system to reveal a crucial key to worldwide navigation.
Mark Anderson, who has covered science, history, and technology for many media outlets including NPR, Wired, and Discover, shares stories of the three most important Venus transit voyages of the age, following French astronomer Jean-Baptiste Chappe d’Ayteroche, British naval officer James Cook, and Hungarian priest Maximilian Hell and their journeys throughout the world as they tracked and studied the planet’s transition across the sun. They observations helped solve the problem of making longitude measures at sea making it more possible for exploration expansion.
Since this remarkable event occurs just twice per century, the next Venus trip across the sun will be in 2117.
Kentucky Folktales: Revealing Stories, Truths, and Outright Lies by Mary Hamilton (University Press of Kentucky, $29.95)
Mary Hamilton has been a professional storyteller since 1983. Several years ago, she received the Circle of Excellence Oracle Award from the National Storytelling Network. Storytelling must have three elements: A story, a teller, and an audience.
Spinning a story isn’t as easy as you might imagine. With no tangible texts or scripts, storytellers carefully combine words and gestures to create interactive and detailed images tailed to fit the audience. Anyone who has ever shared a ghost story around a campfire knows the emotional punch that folktales can have.
This collection of Kentucky folktales is an absolute joy. My favorite, called “The Open Grave,” when has three different endings. The stories are divided into five main sections: Haunts, Frights, and Creepy Tales; Tall Tales and Outright Lives; More Kentucky Folktales; Beyond Kentucky Folktales; and Family Tales and Personal Narratives.
This is the perfect book for bedtime reading, especially if it is “a dark and stormy night…”
When I left Home: My Story by Buddy Guy with David Ritz (Da Capo, $26)
Buddy Guy was thirteen years old when his family got electricity in their modest home in Lettsworth, Louisiana. The electric light it brought wasn’t as enlightening for Guy as the music from a phonograph. When he heard John Lee Hooker’s recording of “Boogie Chillen,” it introduced him not only to the world of music but also the realm of possibilities.
Buddy, winner of six Grammys and Billboard magazine’s Century Award, settled in Chicago, inspired by Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Sonny Boy, and Howlin’ Wolf. Armed with a Les Paul Gibson and a rough demo he had made at a Baton Rouge radio station, the young man had a difficult time finding work. He was about to return to Louisiana in defeat, when he was invited to the 708 club where he was asked to join Otis Rush on stage. After an electrifying performance, he was on his way.
In addition to being an outstanding musician, Guy has built a solid reputation as a songwriter. This is the personal story of a man who helped redefine American music.