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Will by Will Smith (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 16+ hrs.
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Will by Will Smith, narrated by the author, is a phenomenal memoir about his family, his rise to fame, his will to be the best rapper and movie star, and his struggles with emotions. Narrated by Smith himself is like a trip and Audible has me at go when the music of these icons is included for listening. Smith still has those rapping chops — don’t think he doesn’t. But even with his struggles, it is clear that he’s in a place where he is still projecting a little bit of that personal, rather than actual self that he seems to be still searching for. After all, this is a memoir that he hopes will entertain and sell a lot of books.

There were things I already knew in this book from the Fresh Prince Reunion and from conversations during Jada Pinkett’s Red Table Talks. But I will say this, it is clear from Will’s point of view that he does what he does because he loves his family and he wants to give them the life that he didn’t feel like he had, but what he failed to see is that they are not him — they have different needs and desires. Even with Jada, he clearly wanted to create memories as he believed they should be — much of what he does is to create cinematic movies of his memories. He wants to will things into being to reach some sort of ideal. Jada, for her part, clearly loves him and all his faults, but she failed (at least from what I could tell) to express her wants/needs/desires in a way that he heard her and acknowledged them.

But this book is not about just his relationship with Jada. Like many creatives, there are visions we want to achieve and sometimes they work as we see them and sometimes we need to adjust to how those visions can actually be achieved. Gigi, his grandmother, was a wise woman. She believed in being kind and helping others no matter what, and this is something Will took to heart. You can see that in how he helps his friends, family, and even strangers get a leg up and achieve their own dreams, but one piece of advice from his mother that he forgot to embody was only speaking when it improved on silence.

Will clearly loves to talk and joke, but there is something that scares him about silence. This can be traced to those memories of domestic violence by his father against his mother. He stood in silence as his mother was hurt by his father – that inaction shaped him into the boisterous, charismatic clown he is.

Will by Will Smith is vulnerable, reflective, and harsh as Smith examines his past, present, and future. Like many of us who seek to be better and learn from mistakes, he is still on that journey. Is there stuff for the gossip rags? Yes. Will it be exploited? Probably. But was this journey cathartic for Smith and the reader? Definitely. We’re all deeply flawed, and Smith shows us that even our flaws can be channeled to make ourselves successful at least financially, but is that enough? Or should we be learning to adjust our lives and lead richer experiences with those we love?

RATING: Cinquain

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hours
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The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl, narrated by the author, is a delight by itself. If you want to here Grohl talk about his life as written in the book with some riffs and musical interludes, you should pick up this audio.

There’s a lot of unbelievable moments in his life, and I think his ability to just “go for it” and say “yes” to any opportunity really helped him become as successful as he is. I do think some will be disappointed about the lack of gossip about Nirvana and Courtney Love, etc., but most will have to recall that Nirvana was already a band for three years when Grohl joined. He’s spent a very small amount of his career with that band. This is a memoir about Grohl’s life in music and life.

I don’t need to say much else, because I already reviewed the book.

RATING: Cinquain

Woodrow on the Bench by Jenna Blum

While I didn’t officially sign up for Book Journey‘s event, First Book of the Year, here it is:

Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum is a love letter to a beloved companion who provided Blum with not only companionship and love, but also with lessons in patience, humility, and so much more. Woodrow, named after the former Texas Ranger in Lonesome Dove, was a black lab full of mischief, a lover of food (esp. carrots), and energy.

Woodrow is much like our husky and her love of carrots and the outside, but he’s also like my keeshond who loved food so much, you’d often find him in the fridge, stealing pork chops from tables, and so on. Blum’s memoir also brought me back to my college days in Boston. I knew exactly where she was at all times, and the struggles of crossing Commonwealth Ave. are real, and I miss the old Ritz, now the Taj. It has been a very long time since I’ve been back, and during these pandemic years, it allowed me to revisit some places along the way. And for some reason, winter always reminds me of Boston and it’s bone-chilling cold … and the snow! Hence, this became my first read of 2022.

“If I try to cross Commonwealth Avenue at the wrong time or emerge from between parked cars instead of using the crosswalk, there’s an excellent chance I’ll be mowed over. Usually by somebody in a BMW, which I have long since decided — forgive me, Beamer drivers — is an acronym for asshole.”

Blum’s narrative carries the reader on an emotional journey with highs and lows, and most of us know that Woodrow is on the decline at his advanced age. While she does characterize his breathing at one point as “more Darth Vader than usual,” we know that these moments are scary. Woodrow is endearing and he becomes like our own pet through these pages, as we laugh and cry alongside Blum. She’s losing one of her most important anchors, not to be outdone by the equally devastating losses of both her parents.

I found so much of myself in these pages — I’m stubborn like Blum and want to do things the more you tell me they cannot be done. (I’m not sure who I inherited this trait from, honestly, because both my parents shy away from action and conflict. It’s in the genes somewhere.) But when it comes to saving a beloved family member (yes, pets are family), the impossible is just that.

Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum is not only about the loss of a family pet or the lessons Blum learned along the way, it is a microcosm of what we’ve forgotten about humanity – that people can be good and do good. It’s shown time and again when strangers help Blum with her dog as he struggles to walk or when she’s struggling to cross one of the busiest thoroughfares in Boston with her old dog. And she, like us, is “stunned” every time by this compassion. There is something ultimately beautiful that comes from all the sadness in these pages, and we, as readers, are better for it.

RATING: Cinquain

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 304 pgs.
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Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci is a delight in many ways. It’s food, family, friends, and humor. Growing up in New York State and traveling to Italy knowing little to no Italian was an adventure in itself, but Tucci has led a adventurous life in food and life. Don’t get me wrong, there are personal struggles and losses in these pages, and there is his diagnosis of cancer, but through it all, his love of food and how it brings family and friends together shines through.

I’m utterly delighted by his humor – it reminds me so much of my own father’s family. The devil-may-care attitude coupled with the traditional rules that cannot be broken — what in the world are you thinking? It’s a catch-22 kind of place to grow up. But the food. Italians love food, and I dare say that the Portuguese are the same. We’ve always come to the table ready to eat, course after course. While there is a great deal more pasta in this book, it was so delightful to read his take on how things taste. His descriptions will have you salivating, even as you are smiling and laughing along with him about some story on set, with his family, or on a press junket.

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci is a journey in food and it explores how food brings us together as human beings. Some of best times are around the table. Don’t be surprised if you end up hungry several times while reading this. There’s recipes to sate that hunger, if you are feeling adventurous.

RATING: Cinquain

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl

Source: Gift
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl is more than just a memoir of music and the powerhouses in it. This is a story of one man’s complete awe of where his life has taken him and what drives him to keep going even when tragedy rocked his world and threatened to upend it for good. From Grohl’s opening line about aging — “Sometimes I forget that I’ve aged. — readers know they have found a kindred spirit. Aging is a process of time, and more often than not, we’re too busy living to notice that time has passed and we are no longer as young as our heads and hearts may still believe we are. I know I feel this way a lot of the time.

Grohl’s musical career began in his bedroom with a couple of pillows and a dream, but his love of music was with him since birth. From singing in the car with his mother to sharing punk band music with his cousin and taking drumming lessons from a Jazz legend, Grohl was on the path of stardom long before he realized it was his dream.

“At an early age, I started to play drums with my teeth, sliding my jaw back and forth and chomping up and down to simulate the sound of a drum set in my mouth, doing drum rolls and grace notes as if I were using my hands, without anyone ever noticing.”

If you’re looking for gossip of the nastiest kind, forget it. This is a story of hope, perseverance, hard work, and a ton of coffee. That’s my kind of person, though I admit I have never drank pot after pot of coffee and thought I was having a heart attack.

There’s so much memory in this book, and I remember the great Olsson’s Books and Records in Bethesda, so when I saw that in this book (but the Georgetown store), it brought back a lot of memories of my early days in the DMV. Grohl’s writing mirrors the old storyteller who begins a tale, takes a tangential side trip, and gets back to the main thread. But I absolutely loved all the meandering.

When you get to the part about Nirvana, you realize that many fans know him because of this band and its music, but really, Grohl had lived a full musical life before and after Nirvana. He often talks about how he was a nerd/geek and it was clear that the people who grew to love Nirvana over time were those that used to bully him as a kid. The chapter on his grief after lead singer Kurt Cobain’s death is some of the most poignant and real chapters I’ve read on grief. Everyone grieves differently and grief is not the same for each person’s passing.

Grohl may have passed one of the most devastating moments in his life, but he still carries that with him. There are a great may takeaways in this memoir, but one of the best is this: “Courage is a defining factor in the life of any artist.”

Definitely a book that will live on the shelf with my other Rock Stars. The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl is one of the most open and heartfelt memoirs I’ve read in a long time. Would I fangirl if I saw Grohl in person – yes, yes I would. But I do that with anyone’s work I admire. Just ask all the poets I talk to and the ones I will meet someday into the future.

RATING: Cinquain

The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield (audio)

Source: Freebie
Audible, 2+ hrs.
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The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield is a hommage to Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac that relies on Rolling Stone magazine’s extensive archives. It is clear from Rob Sheffield’s effusive narrative that he loves Stevie Nicks, considers her songwriting genius, and her style transcendent. He clearly loves Stevie Nicks and he takes listeners on a journey through her music with the band and as a solo artist. I loved learning that Nicks wrote songs and that none of them were earmarked ahead of time for the band or her solo albums. She just couldn’t help but write songs all the time.

I liked the light-hearted nature of this nugget, as I’m not as familiar with Nicks’ work as others might be. I’ve listened to Fleetwood Mac many times, and I enjoy their music, but I was interested in her as an artist, who seemed to be a force in the band and on her own. I would probably seek out a more in-depth look at her work and her life, but this provided a nice overview without too much “romance/breakup” gossipy stuff, which I tend to not like as much.

The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield is one fan-boy’s love of Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks told by the man himself. It does provide a great overview for the curious who might not want to be too invested, but if you want something more than squealing about how great she is, you might want to try something different.

RATING: Tercet

Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise and Marcus Brotherton (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 12+ hours
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Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise and Marcus Brotherton, read by the Gary Sinise, explores his upbringing, wayward years, and his stumble into acting and building a theater in Chicago from the ground up. These stories are full of antics, and spontaneity, but they also demonstrate the tenacity of a young man who has found his calling. It is this determination that will carry him not only throughout his acting career, but family trials and his charity work with veterans and children.

Sinise is most well-known for Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump and CSI NY but among veterans, he’s Lt. Dan — yes, military personnel have called him that more than one time. While not a veteran himself, Sinise understands the sacrifices many military men and women make for our country and how heavily the PTSD and wounds weigh on not only those sustaining them, but also those caring for the wounded. Listening to this on audio, I was engaged in the story most of the time, unless he was listing accomplishments.

Despite that drawback, Sinise provides a good look at how his wayward early years and stumble into acting not only set him up for success in film, theater, and television, but also in using that success to help others tasked with protecting our freedoms. While there are moments in the memoir where he references things that later proved false (like WMDs in Iraq), the focus on his work is not political — it is humanitarian. This is the work and the part of the memoir that was the most “real” to me. He seemed to genuinely care about the people he tries to help through his foundations and other organizations, and it is clear that he believes in his purpose.

Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise and Marcus Brotherton is an exploration of one man’s journey away from his own concerns and career to a life of service. He’s clearly done a lot of good from uplifting the morale of troops overseas to providing children with school supplies in war zones and ensuring that veterans return home to a place where they can thrive and do more than just survive from appointment to appointment. This is the work to be proud of, work he plans to continue, and work that will leave a lasting impression.

RATING: Quatrain

Forward by Abby Wambach (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook; 5+ hrs.
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Forward by Abby Wambach, read by the author, explores her need for soccer in her life and her early hatred of the game and her talent. But at its heart, it is also a memoir that explores identity and self-love. A lot of her high school and soccer years are spent trying to be seen, but even as she is seen by the public more and more, she feels more unloved. This vacancy in her heart leads her to destructive behavior and she becomes very unbalanced. There is one moment where she turns the tables on herself — asking herself if she knows who she is.

Her life is a roller coaster of emotion where she is on highs and slumps into lows, exchanging booze for pills. However, I feel like when she decides to kick these habits, they are still there but she places less emphasis on them. She talks a lot about getting fit and kicking habits, but she still allows for medications that can be addictive. I found this a bit hypocritical, especially since they mask a larger problem. I sense that there is still denial here in how these pills mask her underlying issues. It begs the question of whether more time apart from soccer and the publicity would have given her more time for reflection and self-assessment, perhaps growth.

Forward by Abby Wambach is an inside look at a woman who has a hard time letting go of control, cannot have faith in others, and learn to love herself and know that she is worthy of love. Soccer is always there for her, even when she doesn’t want it to be. Soccer fans will love the recounting of her championships, Olympics, and more, but these are wider examples of her need for adrenaline and attention. Wambach struggles to be alone and love herself, but she never really recognizes this in the memoir. I think with more distance and further reflection, she would have written a deeper memoir.

RATING: Tercet

Welcome to My Panic by Billie Joe Armstrong (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hrs.
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**Caution: foul language throughout**

Welcome to My Panic by Billie Joe Armstrong, narrated by the author, reveals some interesting inspiration — Fleetwood Mac as a guilty pleasure — and growing up Billie, one of six siblings with varied musical interests. (love for the Fugazi nod) He speaks about the death of his father, his first friendship in school and how music bonded them, having panic attacks at age 10 and onward, but mostly when he’s alone, and so much more.

To be called a “rock star” was the worst insult for this punk — at least that’s what it felt like when stardom took hold of his life. Armstrong tackles his substance use issues, his panic attacks, and his experimentation in music and his life decisions. Much of his impulsivity seems to stem from a lack of stability in his life — something gain control over his career and life.

Highlights for me were the recorded songs on the Audible. It was a trip into my past and rockin’ out years. I love audio’s that provide some kind of look into the creative mind — whether a singer, writer, photographer, or artist. I would probably say this could have been a far longer memoir with much more detail, but it highlights the biggest influences — as Armstrong sees them — in his life. Welcome to My Panic by Billie Joe Armstrong is a great way to pass the time, and I love the mix of narration with music.

RATING: Quatrain

On the House by John Boehner (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 7+ hrs.
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**Caution: foul language throughout**

On the House: A Washington Memoir by John Boehner, read by the author, is an insider’s look at how the House of Representatives works from backroom deals, challenges with fellow party members, and camaraderie between representatives when the media is not in their face or fundraising isn’t front and center. I loved his no-nonsense attitude, but what I found lacking was his own self-reflection on how he could have steered his party and others in different and better ways during his time as Speaker of the House. Much of what he imparts in his years in the House are more “I was right and others were wrong” commentary, which I don’t feel to ring true.

It was great to see his relationships with Presidents Gerald Ford, George Bush, and Barack Obama, especially as Speaker Boehner tried to navigate “Crazytown.” I found it ironic that Boehner started his career in the House as a radical who wanted changes to the House bank, but ended up fighting against “radicals” (Tea Party and otherwise) in his days under the Obama administrations. He has more colorful words for people like Sen. Ted Cruz and others, which I’m sure you’ve heard about online or TV.

Much of the issues facing Boehner were related to the 2013 government shutdown, which he had warned his fellow Republicans that such a standoff would fail against the Obama administration. He may have been right, but allowing the party to hang itself out to dry to prove a political point (which it didn’t) runs contrary to the earlier set up of the book where he hails his respect for the country and its institutions. Mind you, he’s still a Republican with ideals that lean toward smaller government, but in this case, it seems he could have fought Cruz (who was not in the House) harder by pushing his own party away from shutting down the government.

What I did find interesting were the yarns about his childhood and his early House years, including his assessment of Sen. Ted Kennedy and others. Some of these stories seem a bit inflated, but that’s typical with memoirs focused on making the speaker sound more upright and honest than they may have been. We all want to remember our past actions in the best light.

As an aside, I had no idea that the Speaker could make their own rules for their office, including being able to smoke inside! But Boehner did just that! Another fun fact, according to Boehner, Bernie Sanders is the most honest and non-cynical politician in government.

On the House: A Washington Memoir by John Boehner is his review of his time in the House from his early years scrapping his way to the top and as Speaker of the House, one of the most powerful positions in government. What I got out of this is that you are only as powerful as the relationships you build and the consensus you can achieve through those relationships. However, as more politicians become “radical” — adhering to their beliefs without room for new information or compromise — the government is likely to become far more dysfunctional.

RATING: Tercet

Keep Moving by Maggie Smith

Source: Purchased
Audible, 2+ hrs.
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Keep Moving by Maggie Smith, read by the author, is read in that dreaded “poet voice” that’s been in a number of articles, and it drove me crazy. I had to look past that cadence to hear Smith’s words clearly. So if that cadence bothers you, you’ll want to read the book, as opposed to listen to it.

Beyond that, this book offers notes on loss and grief of a recently divorced woman who is continuing her life journey in a way she never expected – without a life partner. It is clear that “keep moving” was a mantra she used to get through the loss of her marriage and the deaths of others. She speaks about living in the present each day and not dwelling in the past that can pull you deep into sadness and make you immobile. Her notes and stories can help those facing similar losses move forward, but in many ways it is like Smith is speaking to herself. We’re getting a sneak peak into her diary.

I love that she focuses on post-traumatic growth in one section of this memoir. This helps us to see beyond the darkness to see the positives in our trials and losses. I liked this the most about the book. Focus on that beginning, push past our fears and explore new avenues for growth. You can even think about professional growth as a way to fill the emptiness left behind.

There is, however, very little about being creative during this time. This is more of an emotional journey and there are snippets of some creative pursuits and nods to the literary community, but no advice on that front, which is what I wanted when I decided to check this out.

Keep Moving by Maggie Smith is about moving forward after irrevocable change, and we need to learn to move beyond our expectations and sadness to see the good, the moments for growth, and how small steps can lead to great, gratifying changes. She also speaks about how you can snowball that movement into helping others. Moving toward living, not just coping.

RATING: Tercet

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 1+ hours
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The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, narrated by Vanessa Redgrave, is an adaptation of Joan Didion’s memoir of the same name. It has been transformed into a one-act play. The devastation felt by Didion is immense but the undulating way in which this story is told is as disjointed as her emotions must have been during this time in her life, losing a husband and daughter. This shattering loss propelled the author into a world of magical thinking.

There’s an examination of marriage and its push and pull and the motherly promise that you’ll never leave your child. There is that magical thinking that your own motherly focus can keep things moving forward into the future as you’d like them to be.

Redgrave is the perfect narrator for this play. Her voice lulls you into the story and breaks your heart when Didion’s is broken. But Didion’s narrative is also very factual and linear in some parts. I honestly think this is probably best viewed as a play, rather than on audio because my mind would wander away from the story when it was a bit too clinical. I might read the memoir at a later date.

RATING: Tercet