Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King

on-writing-kingI have an unpopular opinion to share: I don’t like Stephen King’s writing. I like movies based on his work, but I cannot finish one of his stories without gagging. I love scary stories, so I don’t know what it was that turned me away. But surprise: while I was hesitant to put King’s memoir on my book club’s reading list, but I am very glad I did. Previously, I thought of King as an over-hyped hack. After I was done reading On Writing, I realized I could not have been more wrong.

In the first section of the book, King details his early life, growing up, meeting his wife, and starting his writing career. The second section details his writing process. The final section tells the story of his infamous car accident. I had none of my previous issues with On Writing as I did with his fiction. I found my self not only finishing this memoir, but enjoying it. His life story was endearing, and revealed himself to be much more laid back than his popularity would suggest. His description of his writing method showed me that he was every bit a creator as any of my favorite authors.

This memoir is part practical advice to new writers and part intimate portrait of Stephen King. I would highly recommend it if you are an aspiring writer, or if you enjoy King’s work. If, like me, you do not enjoy King’s work, I STRONGLY URGE you to read it. On Writing gave me a new perspective on Stephen King and any other writer that I previously “poo-pooed”. I still can’t finish King’s novels, but I now have more respect for him as a writer, and an artist.

Check the PPLC Catalog for On Writing.

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10% Happier, by Dan Harris

10 happier harrisIf you want to know how the author became 10% happier without reading the book, I can tell you in one word: meditation. Wait! I can feel you wanting to click away, but hear me out. If you are a skeptic who thinks meditation is a bunch of hooey, like I did, you might find this book especially insightful. The author, Dan Harris, is a prolific journalist for ABC and also an agnostic who doesn’t have a strong belief in a higher power, which makes him an interesting case study for the benefits of meditation. During Harris’ professional career he has done in-person interviews with three superstars of self-help: Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and the Dalai Lama. Harris is candid about what these people are really like, but he’s even more candid about himself: what led him to discover meditation and how exactly it helped him.

Dan Harris’ journey began in 2004 when he had a panic attack on live TV. This moment represented rock-bottom of a downward spiral for a man whose profession requires nothing less than a flawless presentation. With the help of a therapist, Harris discovered that his “self-medicating” with cocaine and ecstasy, as well as the flulike symptoms and lethargy he’d been feeling since returning from reporting in Iraq, was all linked to depression. From there, Harris began a personal odyssey to reel in his emotions and silence the overly-critical voice in his head, eventually stumbling onto meditation for lasting results.

Like many personal journeys, Harris’ was full of ups and downs, dead ends and epiphanies. Even if you’re not interested in meditation, this book is a fascinating read nonetheless and very well-written. Harris talks openly about many of the most controversial events he’s reported on over the years from the Iraq War to disgraced pastor Ted Haggard, which makes this book a surprising page-turner. And if by the end Harris has convinced you to try meditating, there’s an appendix with everything you need to know to get started.

Check the PPLC Catalog for 10% Happier.

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A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, by Sue Klebold

klebold-motherOn April 20, 1999, two young men, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, went to their high school prepared to kill their classmates. They came with guns and home-made bombs. Fifteen people would die that day and dozens of others would be injured. When these tragedies are heard on the news they come with a pretty standard running dialogue. There are those that blame poor parenting (“How could they NOT know?!”), lack of gun control, mental illness, and inherent evil. These varied responses stem from the need to rationalize, to make sense of such senseless acts.

Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, writes a deeply honest and detailed account of what her family was like before and after Columbine. As an advocate for mental health and suicide prevention, Sue delves into her own and Dylan’s journals looking for traces of evidence that her beloved son could be capable of murder and suicide. While she adamantly accepts what her son participated, she also wants the world to know that she honestly had no idea; this could happen even to your family. What is it that turns an introspective, depressed teen into a killer?

Mrs. Klebold has clearly done her research. On almost every page she quotes from an article or an expert in their field. I believe this is her honest attempt at honoring both the victims of Columbine and her son. That day she too lost a son, a boy who used to make her origami presents to cheer her up and gave endless cuddles when he was little. On these pages Sue Klebold tells us how she came to terms with the Dylan of her memory and the Dylan seen in the basement tapes with Eric Harris.

I recommend this title, but grab a tissue box. It’s a very heavy read and Mrs. Klebold does not hold back. This book is unique from others on the same topic as we rarely get the perspective of the family. Both scientific and down-to-Earth, this is an interesting read for all types of people.

Check the PPLC Catalog for A Mother’s Reckoning.

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H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald

hhawk macdonaldThis genre-blending memoir/biography/nature story was published in 2014, and now, nearly two years later, the waiting list for it at our library has just started to taper off. So if you haven’t read this critically-acclaimed book yet, now is a great time to place a request. And if you have already read it, feel free to tell us what you thought in the comments.

Helen is still reeling from the unexpected death of her father when she decides to purchase and train a goshawk: a large bird of prey prized in the ancient art of falconry for its remarkable hunting ability. Although Helen is an experienced and accomplished falconer who has trained many hawks, she has never attempted to train one as big and wild as a goshawk. The book documents Helen’s trials and tribulations as she trains her hawk and, slowly, finds meaning in life again. Interleaved with Helen’s own falconer story is that of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, a troubled man who also trained a goshawk.

H is for Hawk is critically acclaimed for a reason. It was so beautifully written and complexly told that, when finished, it was difficult for this librarian to move on to another book. Even if you’re not into falconry, or dealing with grief, or you’ve never heard of T.H. White, this book will regardless strike a nerve. Highly recommended.

Check the PPLC Catalog for H is for Hawk.


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The Skeleton Cupboard by Tanya Byron

skeleton cupboardTanya Byron starts off her story by telling her readers that every patient she discusses in this pseudo-memoir is fake. She says that she created them from dozens of people and experiences and that this story is actually about what it takes to become a clinical psychologist, proving that just because some people are trained to help you with your problems doesn’t mean they can handle their own. Byron wants you to know that everyone struggles and that the path to sanity/clarity isn’t always simple or what you expect. Saying all of that, I connected with every patient. Every story told I could easily believe and honestly wished for them to be okay. Byron messed with my emotions with fake patients! I felt like I should have been angry—robbed of being able to google videos of their personal testimonials of achieving emotional well-being.

Byron walks her readers through her different placements and training exercises where she meets a violent sociopath, a silent twelve year old determined to kill herself, a beautiful and talented teenage girl who is starving herself to keep her family together, and a wildly successful clothing designer dying of AIDS. The Skeleton Cupboard reads like a mystery novel with enough intrigue and twists to get anyone interested despite the fact that we’re talking clinical psychology. This is a great book for anyone interested or personally touched by mental illness. Byron’s clear, ethical, and sympathetic prose makes for an amazing memoir and examination of the psychiatric systems evolution in the UK.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Skeleton Cupboard.

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Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen

MennoniteinaLittleBlackRhoda Janzen’s candid, hilarious memoir proves that you actually can always go home, even when home is to Mennonite parents. What problem can’t be cured with a little borscht?

Rhoda is dealt two blows in a week’s time. First she is in a horrific car accident, and then her husband leaves her for a man he met on a gay dating website. With little else to do, Rhonda decides to go home to nurse her wounds and her broken heart.

She finds comfort in the Four F’s: Family, Faith, Food and Flatulence. If you are expecting a book about self-pity, this isn’t it. Janzen’s humor and optimism shine through, even as she begins to reveal the horrors she endured before her road to recovery. After years away from her Mennonite upbringing, she sees the religion through adult eyes. It may be a world she no longer fits into after higher education (Mennonites frown upon that) and 15 years of marriage to an atheist, but she begins to recover fond memories from her childhood. The reader grows to love this quirky family just as much as she does.

Don’t we all have family members who say inappropriate things at the dinner table or fart in public or cook cabbage 15 different ways? Well maybe not, but every family has their idiosyncrasies.

Janzen is sarcastic and unapologetic. She’s one woman finding her own path after tragedy strikes. And I laughed the whole way there.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.

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Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have to Do It by John O’Hurley

Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework First You Have to Do It coverWho are you? On the surface it’s a seemingly innocent question that O’Hurley attempts to answer.

As in It’s Okay to Miss the Bed on the First Jump, O’Hurley again shares pearls of wisdom from the life lessons he has learned. The anecdotes range from whimsical to solemn. A one sided conversation with his young son William allows O’Hurley to delve into everyday situations.

“Yes, life can change in an instant, and sometimes life is unexpectedly unfair. It is not what happens to us in life; it is what we do about it… the unfairness of rejection is simply protection in disguise.”

“To accept a goal means you accept the responsibility of preparing for its accomplishment.”

“The paradox of this dream of inadequacy is that, it only occurs in the minds of people who want to succeed. Underachievers sleep peacefully.”

“We claim not to have time, when, ironically, time is all we truly have.”

Who are you? The question is as simple as it is profound.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have to Do It.