All posts filed under: Nonfiction

emptymansions

Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

On January 8, 1839, during the eighth US president’s time in office, William A. Clark was born in a Pennsylvania log cabin. One hundred and seventy-two years and thirty-six presidents later, his daughter Huguette would be living in reclusion in the middle of Manhattan, the century-old heiress of an unfathomable fortune rendered from copper in the time of the Civil War. It’s an extraordinary story of rags-to-riches with several lifetimes’ worth of scandal, loss, and generosity in between – a story of a remarkable family and one of American history’s greatest fortunes, both fallen into the shadows, hidden in plain sight. The breadcrumbs of this forgotten piece of social and cultural history were stumbled upon in 2009 by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman who, when fanciful curiosity led him slightly out of his price range, came across an abandoned mansion while he was house-hunting in Connecticut. He soon discovered that the house, in a shambles but still handled by a manager, was owned by a woman who had never lived in it – a woman …

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Chasers of the Light by Tyler Knott Gregson

Tyler Knott Gregson wrote the first poem in his popular typewriter series without ever knowing there would be a typewriter series. After stumbling across an old Remington typewriter in a used bookshop, he took a page from the $2 book he was purchasing and, without ceremony (without even taking a seat), he typed out a poem. What followed was a love affair between a poet and an unchangeable medium. Gregson, a born romantic and self-proclaimed “chaser of the light”, fell in love with the honesty of writing poetry on a typewriter, the solidity of the aesthetic and its inability to be edited. He first shared his poems online to viral acclaim, and now a selection of them are available in his book, Chasers of the Light. The book comprises poems Gregson has typed on found scraps of papers as well as poetry created with the blackout method (book pages blacked out to leave only stray words that together form a poem), and traditionally printed poems accompanying some of his original photography. What looks to be …

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Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is the brainchild of the Pulitzer-winning husband-and-wife journalistic team, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. She has roots as a business executive and he’s a longtime op-ed columnist for the New York Times; together, they continue to provoke change and raise awareness for global issues. When it was published in 2009, Half the Sky incited a movement to take action against the crises women of poverty are facing in the developing world. The movement of the book went on to spark a two-part miniseries on PBS, a social media game that raises funds for change, and, most invaluably, an enduring discussion of the problems as well as the potential solutions. The crises at the fore of this women’s rights initiative are horrifying in both context and scope, but WuDunn and Kristof present them with tact and respectfulness, balancing the harrowing truths with other, more optimistic realities about how these injustices are being fought against. As a reader, I felt I had an undeniable opportunity – and, …

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Thirst: Poems by Mary Oliver

Thirst is Mary Oliver’s 2006 collection, containing forty-three works from the poet that frame her experiences in the time after her partner of four decades passed away. While her poems always have a way of exposing the rawness of nature and freedom and love, here she sets her sights on slightly different territory: namely the nakedness of grief and the honesty of passing through it, back to the place of comfort that looks slightly different after knowing loss. Sweetly, peacefully, she faces that place with hope and courage. Some poems are decidedly more religious in context than some of her others, but with ever as much food for the secular soul. As she explores her encounters with Christianity she reveals her prayers directly while remaining faithful (as it were) to the religion that has always governed her work: the naturalness and beauty of the rustic world. I had such a longing for virtue, for company. I wanted Christ to be as close as the cross I wear. I wanted to read and serve, to touch …

7 Steps to Living Loudly by Stephanie Shar (+ Giveaway)

I mentioned recently that my friend and fellow blogger Stephanie Shar has recently published her first e-book, and I’m thrilled to be sharing my thoughts on it today while Steph simultaneously guest posts on my other blog, The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower. Be sure to check that out, as she’s also giving away an copy of her e-book to a lucky reader! In 7 Steps to Living Loudly: Discover Who You Are, Decide What You Need and Create the Life You Want, Stephanie draws on her passion for inspiring others as she breaks down her method for living Loudly. In keeping with the theme of her popular blog, The Loudmouth Lifestyle, she delves into the essence of the Loud movement: living fully and happily by following your dreams, loving yourself, and surrounding yourself with people that will inspire you on your journey. The seven steps are to Be You, Be Passionate, Be Honest, Be Present, Be Bold, Be Loved, and Be Loud; each step is also followed up by a journal prompt that …

Ezra and Hadassah: A Portrait of American Royalty by Heather Young

In her memoir, Ezra and Hadassah: A Portrait of American Royalty, author Heather Young weaves the intricate, painful story of her childhood with her brother Rex as helpless victims of the state. Born Hadassah and Ezra, the siblings spent the early years of their lives between a foster home and weekends spent with their biological parents. As children of parents overpowered by mental illness, Ezra and Hadassah were at the mercy of Children’s Services, a system that failed them when they were sent first to an unloving foster home and later adopted into an abusive family. With their names changed to Heather and Rex, the two grew up in an environment rife with physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse that would determine the course of their lives. In Ezra and Hadassah, Young charts her unexpected journey to find her place and also tells the remarkable, heartbreaking story of how her brother Rex ultimately inspired her. In straightforward and thoughtful prose the story of Heather and Rex’s lives engulfs the reader from the very first page, producing …

An Unsuitable Princess by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Jane Rosenberg LaForge’s An Unsuitable Princess weaves a unique combination of fiction and memoir as it tells two stories at once, stories that span the distance between a Renaissance fairy tale and a young woman’s experience coming of age in early-1970s Hollywood. This unusual pairing is achieved through a creative rendering of the book’s format. Foremost is a fantasy story about a mute orphan and her love for a blacksmith’s apprentice; in moments where the fantasy takes particular inspiration from her life, LaForge adds footnotes marked by flowers, which lead the reader into the second part of the book: her true account of young adulthood, Renaissance faires, and the boy who changed her life. As both stories unravel at the same time, the reader is introduced to a new and heady type of literary adventure, one that touches the heart and feeds the imagination. One would expect, given such a unique style, that An Unsuitable Princess would require some particular skill or endeavoring on the reader’s part in order to best appreciate the book as …

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Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

First published in 1994, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird is considered one of the quintessential books for writers. As the subtitle Some Instructions on Writing and Life suggests, Lamott’s narrative breaks down the writing life, guiding students of the craft on the journey to understand what drives our passion by sifting the intricacies of writing through the varying emotions and circumstances we’re apt to come across in our day-to-day lives. In chapters like School Lunches and Index Cards Lamott draws on her habits and experiences to better explain her own unique process, while in the chapter titled Writing a Present she explores the various ways in which her inspiration has taken root somewhere outside of herself. Her characteristic wit is at work throughout her narrative, often turning a darkly comic glance on the harrows we come across in writing and life that can sometimes help to fuel our journey. While Bird by Bird covers a lot of ground, Lamott’s voice handles the material with a quick and comfortable pace. She has a unique ability to …