This page is for those books that are non-fiction and can include any subject.
COMPLETE GUIDE TO ASTROLOGY by Louise Edington
Non-fiction how-to book
Publisher blurb: Written in the stars—understanding astrology for beginners and longtime diviners. Astrology has been used for thousands of years to help predict upcoming events, interpret the meaning of life, and interact more effectively with other people. Whether you’re new to the field, or have long been looking to the sky for answers, The Complete Guide to Astrology is the perfect way to understand how your stars align. Start with the basic elements of astrology like the signs, modalities, and houses. Then, learn how these factor specifically into your own birth chart. From there, detailed charts give you further insight into how to make conscious choices to live up to your highest potential.
Review: They weren’t kidding when they said everything you always wanted to know about astrology. But I’m not sure it’s for absolute beginners. Some of the information seemed too…hard to get. Honestly, I ended up skimming a lot of it because I didn’t understand it. This might be one of those books you have to read several times in order to “get” it.
What I liked: It is a very thorough book with lots of information. It does help you understand things, but you need to really pay attention to it.
What I didn’t like: It is very textbook-like and, like a textbook, can be rather dry at times. To the point where I put it down quite often and went off to read other things. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very thorough book, but be forewarned that it can be dry at times.
Recommendation: If you’re interested in astrology, then definitely pick this up, but be prepared for a lot of details.
This book was provided to me through the publisher.
Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time by Sarah Ruden
(I’d give it more if I could)
This is an astonishing book that changed my views of Saint Paul. We all think we know who Saint Paul is. He was touched by God on the road to Damascus, changing him into the great missionary, founding Christian churches all over the Roman world. We think we know how Saint Paul thinks, based on the books he wrote in the Bible.
But do we really?
It’s hard enough to understand an era of history that is still barely within living memory (say, the 1930’s in the United States during the long, slow, grinding run-up to World War II when no one and I mean no one in 1935 had any idea of what they’d be doing seven years later) and is reasonably well-documented in the language we speak today.
How much harder is it to understand the world two thousand years ago, with an enormous language barrier and cultural and behavioral barriers that are even larger. The Greeks and Romans at 1 A.D did not think like us. They didn’t act like us. Their entire social structure was wildly different from ours and not just because it was a world built almost entirely on human and animal muscle.
This was the world of Saint Paul.
Why then, do we think that Saint Paul should have thought like a modern person and fault him when he doesn’t? Judging people of the past by the standards of today is chronocentrism and it gets in the way of understanding better what actually happened as opposed to what we think should have happened if only those unenlightened savages knew better, like we do today.
So meet Sarah Ruden, a classical scholar and a Quaker, who decided she needed to understand Saint Paul better. Fortunately, as a classics scholar, experienced in ancient Greek and classical Latin, she could go to the source materials. Even more interesting, she chose to examine the written records we do have of the world that Saint Paul actually lived in. That is, Ms. Ruden translated all kinds of writing, from Juvenal to Ovid to Petronius (and a host of others) to help us understand a very different world. Then, she uses her translations to explain how Saint Paul was influenced in his writings by the world he lived in.
As an example, why does Saint Paul tell women to cover their hair in church? Because at the time, there were two classes of women: upper-class ladies with wealth and family backing and everyone else. Everyone else means poor women, slaves, and whores. Those categories are not mutually exclusive either. If you were poor and female, you got zero respect of any kind and if some wealthy man wanted you, well, you complied. One of the ways to distinguish upper-class women was they were veiled in public. Poor women didn’t cover their hair.
Covering your hair in church meant that poor prostitutes got treated with respect, almost as though they had the status of upper-class women.
Why did Saint Paul tell women to remain silent in church? The scandal here was not women remaining silent. It was that women were in church in the first place! Again, a very different world, one in which women – unless they were slaves or whores or desperately poor – didn’t normally go out in public to socialize or work. They stayed home. Behind walls and closed doors. Certain public functions were acceptable but not very many. The Romans were more accepting of women in public than the Greeks were, but not by much.
Thus, Saint Paul allows women in a public church at a time when this was shocking. He asks that they remain silent basically as a sop to contemporary mores and get their questions answered afterwards. But he expects them to be there and he expects them to have questions that should be answered. Groundbreaking.
Another fascinating aspect of Ms. Ruden’s book is how nasty so much of the classical writings were. Those Romans didn’t censor themselves. I’m reminded of Catullus #16 which is so viciously obscene that it is still almost never translated into English. I didn’t know that little ditty even existed until a few years ago, when I was looking into Catullus’ poems for another project. In Paul Among the People, Ms. Ruden provides her own translations and she keeps close to the invective-laden spirit of the original writing. She thoughtfully provides an extensive bibliography so you can brush up your Latin and Greek and check for yourself.
Paul Among the People also answered one of those questions I’ve had for years. As we head deeper into a post-Christian world, it becomes harder and harder to understand why Christianity swept the world, moving from an obscure Jewish sect in 32 A.D. to becoming the official religion of Rome as per Constantine in 313 A.D. This took less than three hundred years and during an era when most people never traveled more than a few miles from where they were born. The world at that time had many, many religious sects and movements to choose from.
Why Christianity? Because it offered hope, for the very first time, to huge numbers of people at the very bottom of the social ladder, people who were used to being treated as worth less than dirt. Christianity valued those people, many of them for the first time ever. Christianity and the gospel worked. Prayers were answered by the living Christ as they still are today.
If you are interested in the early church, in Saint Paul, Christianity, or in the classical world, I can’t recommend Paul Among the People enough. It is very readable, lively, and fascinating. Expect to be alternately entertained, horrified, and challenged.
If you’d like to learn more about Sarah Ruden you can visit her website: https://sarahruden.com/
If you’d like to learn more about Paul Among the People: https://www.amazon.com/Paul-Among-People-Reinterpreted-Reimagined/dp/0385522576
If you’d like to read Catullus #16, here’s the original text (get out your unabridged Latin dictionary from graduate school) along with a translation if you didn’t attend graduate school for classical studies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catullus_16
Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter
Nonfiction – How To
I have a longstanding interest in garbage, recycling, waste management, and sustainability. The culture of unknown civilizations can be deciphered by their garbage heaps. That’s what archeologists are: history’s garbage analysts. What we throw away shows what we use. How we discard objects and their condition demonstrates our wealth. We are the wealthiest society on the face of the earth, ever, and our garbage proves it.
Thus, I was thrilled to discover that Adam Minter had written a new book, Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale. Minter is a longtime business journalist with a special interest in the waste stream, due to coming from a family that owned a scrapyard. I read his previous book Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade with great interest. Since he grew up in a scrapyard, he has a much better feel for what recycling really is as opposed to someone who tosses cans into the bin and never gives them another thought.
We talk about recycling all the time but most of us don’t understand it. Yes, your recycling bin is a harvest point for materials. However, if those harvested materials cost more than virgin materials, recycling doesn’t mean a thing. Cost always wins because manufacturers are primarily concerned about how much they’re about to spend on feedstocks for what they make.
So when do you recycle?
When you’ve done all the other steps.
This is the correct order if you are serious about being sustainable, saving money, reducing your carbon footprint, and saving the environment:
Reduce, reuse, repair, repurpose, recycle.
You recycle last; when there is zero life left in the object.
In Secondhand, Minter takes us around the world (as he did in Junkyard Planet) to see how other people reuse, repair, and repurpose our discards. It can be heartbreaking. He starts with those firms that cleanout other people’s houses. If you’ve ever wondered what to do with your parents’ 3,000 square-foot house packed to the gunwales with stuff (I certainly do), cleanout firms will take care of your problem. Does everything get carefully reused and restored for eager buyers?
Not a chance. Most of what we hold dear isn’t dear to anyone else and it goes straight to the landfill. Even Goodwill can’t sell everything that gets donated and they try, first in the main store and then in their bargain bins. Then it goes to the landfill.
There’s just too much stuff.
Too many clothes, especially poor-quality fast fashion. Too many books. Too many outdated electronics that were never meant to be repaired.
Yet much of this avalanche of stuff can be reused in the third world. Goods we wouldn’t carefully disassemble and rebuild using cannibalized parts such as old TV’s are routinely rebuilt and reused.
Minter explores the secondhand market in the US, Japan, Mexico, Malaysia, and Africa, dispelling myths and wrong ideas along the way. He also proposes a potential solution to the tsunami of stuff: make better stuff that can be repaired.
Yes, as you suspected, plenty of things are designed so they cannot be repaired. I’m looking at you, Apple products. Clothing made to fall apart after four washings with 1/4-inch seam margins and fabric so cheap it can’t be reused. Did you know that lightbulb manufacturers got together in 1926 to enact standards so that lightbulbs failed quicker so they’d sell more? I didn’t. Minter also spends some time discussing why car-seat manufacturers insist that a car-seat is only good for six years and then poof, it expires and will kill your kids. There is actually no proof and no government standards for this position. It’s designed to sell more car-seats.
I could go on and on but you’d be better off reading Secondhand yourself. Then, go back and read his first book, Junkyard Planet, for a look into what actually happens to that scrap paper and those cans you tossed into the recycling bin. Both books will open your eyes to a world you didn’t know existed, quietly humming away as it reuses what you don’t want anymore and makes money doing so.
And after you’re finished reading? And you’d like to make a change in your own life? Reduce, reuse, repair, repurpose, recycle. Buy less stuff, buy better quality stuff so it can be reused (clothing that can be worn more than a few times), repair your stuff (replace those lost buttons and resew those seams), repurpose your stuff so it gains another life (felt that wool sweater and turn it into potholders), and then recycle what’s left.
You can find both of Adam Minter’s books in most libraries or bookstores.
Or, if you want to go online, go to https://www.amazon.com/Secondhand-Travels-Global-Garage-Sale/dp/1635570107/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
For Junkyard Planet: https://www.amazon.com/Junkyard-Planet-Travels-Billion-Dollar-Trash/dp/1608197913
If you’d like to visit Adam Minter’s minimal website: http://shanghaiscrap.com/
WHOLE IN ONE by Ellie Krieger
Nonfiction – Cooking
Blurb: We want the food we love and we want to be healthy, but who has the time or energy to figure it all out? James Beard Award winner and bestselling cookbook author Ellie Krieger shows you how to create a meal in a single pot, sheet pan, baking dish, or skillet — no additional gadgets or tools required. Divided by main ingredients — meat, poultry, seafood, vegetarian, dessert — and further separated into sheet pan, baking dish, skillet, and pot-cooked meals, the 125 nutritionally complete dinner recipes (plus healthy desserts) can each be prepared simply. Whole in One puts home-cooked meals within reach by minimizing the work load on both ends of the dinner process — cooking and clean-up — with one pot dishes that check every box. Minimal steps? Check. Crowd-pleasing flavors? Check. Easy-to-find ingredients? Check. Nutritionally complete? Check. Breezy cleanup? Check.
In this book, Ellie Krieger streamlines meal preparation by minimizing the number of pots and pans needed to produce tasty recipes. The few recipes I tried were all good and several others looked interesting. The book is organized by the protein/type of food: Plant Protein, eggs, and Dairy, Seafood, Poultry, Meat (pork, beef, lamb), Desserts
What I liked: She uses sweeteners sparingly. Honey and maple syrup are most commonly used with some brown sugar and a tiny bit of confectioner’s sugar. I liked that cooking implements were minimized, but beware that preparation is not. I loved that nutritional information is included. It’s often not and is important to me.
What I didn’t like: This is definitely not an allergen friendly cookbook. More than half the recipes were unusable for me and/or my family without substitutions.
Recommendation: With the allergen caveat in mind, WHOLE IN ONE is worthy of a spot on your cookbook shelf.
I received an ARC of this title through NetGalley.
The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide by Richard Conniff
If you’ve ever wondered about the habits and mores of the rich, look no further than The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide by Richard Conniff. This is a gossipy, amusing investigation by a long-time science writer who specializes in human and animal behavior.
And boy, oh boy, is it gossipy. Sadly, Mr. Conniff frequently doesn’t reveal the names because of embarrassment to the gossipers or, more likely, the threat of lawsuits. There are amazing stories about the denizens of Palm Beach, the luxury retreats in Aspen, the Hamptons—all those places that mere mortals like me only go to in order to scrub the toilets.
And this would be after I signed a non-disclosure contract prior to donning my rubber gloves and picking up my scrubby because God forbid I should reveal my employer’s total lack of personal hygiene. Or the array of pharmaceuticals in the bathroom or the ahem, astounding array of personal toys in the bedrooms all of which need to be washed. If you doubt me, there are now loads of this kind of photographs online courtesy of Jeffrey Epstein’s death. He can’t sue anymore, making him fair game.
As a named name, here’s a sample anecdote from page 69: Alva Vanderbilt in 1899 owned a “cottage” in Newport, RI. She sponsored the first car race in North America on the lawn. The race was “an obstacle course of dummy policemen, nursemaids, and babies in carriages. Biographer Barbara Goldsmith writes that the driver who killed the fewest innocent bystanders won the race.” DeathRace 1899, folks!
A relative of Alva, Consuelo Vanderbilt, wrote a memoir of her life among the moneyed and titled elite (she was an American heiress married off to the Duke of Marlborough who didn’t like her but he sure loved her multi-million-dollar dowry). She didn’t worry about being sued so her memoirs are apparently quite the read. Our intrepid author quotes her frequently.
The book comes with a marvelous index, so if you’re looking for a specific name, you can go right to Seward L. Johnson numerous pages or the multiple pages devoted to the Getty family or to the Gates family. Make sure you don’t skip the index, or the footnotes either (Wilt Chamberlain among other tidbits). There’s also plenty of anecdotes devoted to Viktor Kozeny who knew rich idiots when he saw them and stole plenty of money from them.
Why did Viktor Kozeny go after the wealthy elite? It wasn’t just because that’s where the money was. It turns out that hitting the financial lottery (by luck or hard work or choosing your parents wisely) does not confer intelligence or common sense. Who could have guessed?
What comes through loud and clear is that Scrooge McDuck types of piles of money does change behavior. The lucky recipient starts to wholeheartedly believe that they are better than the rest of us. That they are superior in every possible way because, well, they must be! Why else would a beneficent providence grant so much money to the Rockefeller clan? Because they deserved it and you didn’t.
I devoured this book, reading large chunks of it aloud over breakfast to my own dear, longsuffering husband. The parallels between monkeys and rich people, warblers and rich people, insects and rich people were all fabulous and funny.
If you’re looking for an amusing read to better explain our elites and their behavior, this is a very good start. If you write about rich people, you’ll get some terrific inspirations from page after page of hijinks and oh-my-God-can-you-believe-this stories. Since the anecdotes are heavily footnoted, you can track them down yourself via the extensive and detailed bibliography. The bibliography – if you omit the biology textbooks – provides even more sources for bad behavior among the wealthy.
What a great read this was. I highly recommend The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide.
Check your library or, if you’re rich, head on over to Amazon and buy your own copy: https://www.amazon.com/Natural-History-Rich-Field-Guide/dp/0393019659/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
If you’d like to see what else Richard Conniff does in his spare time, he’s got a website: https://strangebehaviors.wordpress.com/
Teresa, Dec 2019
Violence: A Writer’s Guide by Rory Miller
This book is excellent. Even if you aren’t a writer, it’s worth a read to get a better understanding of violence in all its forms. If you are a writer, well! What a fabulous resource.
The author, Rory Miller, is a long-time corrections officer, Army vet, and a martial artist. He knows violence and violent people and what violence does to mind and body. He also knows how little reality there is in movie and book violence.
If you’ve ever wondered, like I have, how tiny Scarlett Johannsson (she’s five-foot three-inches tall) could possibly whip a dozen goons into submission, the answer is she can’t. Not ever. No amount of girl power and coolness factor will make the vast majority of women able to tackle and subdue a typical man. Not without a gun, training, plenty of ammo, and probably not even then. It’s amazing how much punishment a motivated crook, fighter, or warrior can endure and keep on fighting.
Rory Miller discusses this currently fashionable idea and how wrong it is.
He covers everything a writer (or anyone else) could want to know: viewpoints of criminals, the elements of an act of violence, the stages of an assault, what violence does to the mind and body; the list goes on and on in sometimes stomach-churning detail.
He doesn’t pull his punches, based on the reality of what he sees in the real world so if reading that a five-foot three woman can’t outfight a group of men gets your knickers in a twist, don’t read this book.
He covers a lot of ground in this book and there’s plenty of online resources in each chapter to see, via the miracle of modern surveillance technology, what actually can happen in a fight when your body armor fails. When the bad guy doesn’t go down with a single shot (hint: most of them don’t). How hard it can be to actually stop someone from fighting. Most of these videos are gruesome and come with warnings. Even MMA bouts don’t accurately convey how fast, brutal, and messy a street fight can be. MMA has rules, such as no fish-hooking (catching your opponent’s open mouth so you tear the cheeks open) or eye-gouging. In a real street fight, those are definite risks. Real street fights and real wars have terrible odors and horrible sounds to go with the bloody visuals, the pain, and even the tang of blood in your mouth.
We’re a violent species. Get over it. We’re violent today; the difference between modern American life and ye bad old days is that we pay the police and lawyers to be violent on our behalf so we don’t have to do that dirty work ourselves.
That said, not being involved in that kind of dirty work means that as writers, we can get our details seriously wrong. Artistic and acrobatic leaps look good in the movies; they don’t work in the real world. Nobody dies ‘instantly’ unless you guillotine them. If a nail-gun to the head won’t stop someone, why would you assume a bullet will? What will kill your villain (or hero) will be sepsis from poorly treated injuries which takes time. Even bleeding out from a slashed artery takes a few minutes. A vein takes longer so don’t mix them up when you write that battle scene.
For myself, I much prefer to stay safe and learn the ins and outs of violence from writers who do have firsthand experience, such as Mr. Miller. This book was tops. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I did not, I will admit, go looking at the gruesome suggested videos online. I don’t need to see someone being shot to death.
So, if you write scenes of violence and you’d like to make sure they’re somewhat more accurate, add Violence: A Writer’s Guide to your reference library.
Here’s Rory Miller’s website so you can learn more about him:
Here’s the book link for purchase (he self-published so you probably can’t get it via the library):
97 Orchard: The Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman is a valuable addition to your library if you’re interested in how normal people lived in the past. Not the aristocracy. Real people.
Ms. Ziegelman is the director of the Tenement Museum’s culinary center. Her well-researched book covers the lives of five immigrant families, starting with the Glockner family in 1864. Lucas Glockner, a German immigrant, saved his pennies and built the tenement house which his family then lived in. He rented out the rest of the building to everyone else.
The tenement, now a museum, was five stories high, with no running water. Subdivide that building into twenty-two apartments, each about 325 square feet with three rooms, and you can imagine how many people were crammed into this one building.
Yet 97 Orchard was not unique. Plenty of tenements were built in New York City, all similar to this one. Five stories seemed to be the maximum height a building could be, without elevators or pumps to move water up to the top floor.
Tenements were cheap housing, and eventually, if a family could afford better, they’d move on. More light, more space, running water, the shifting ethnic composition of the neighborhood; families moved in and out. Sometimes they moved because they were skipping out on the rent.
There were many more than five families residing at 97 Orchard Street, but the focus on five families lets the author go into depth about the different ethnicities flooding into New York City from 1860 or so on up to the 1930’s, their different eating habits, and their different futures.
These families had a few things in common. They were all desperately poor and they all needed to eat and survive in a strange new world.
After the Glockners and an in-depth discussion of early German immigrants, we meet the Moore family (Irish, utterly destitute, 1869), the Gumpertz family (poor German Jews, 1870), the Rogarshevsky family (destitute Russian Jews, 1908), and the Baldizzi family (poor Sicilians, 1928). Although the author doesn’t tell us, it’s likely that these families, especially the first three, knew each other.
Tenements are crowded. The residents can’t avoid each other, even if they want to.
The author uses each of her chosen five families to describe a much larger picture of immigration, culture clash, foodways, upward mobility, and managing poverty. There are recipes too, although this is not a cookbook. It’s a series of snapshots of a vanished world, one that usually doesn’t get addressed in fiction or history because these snapshots are of normal, poor, working-class families. They didn’t make history. They weren’t famous. They existed and did the best they could, while struggling to ensure their children had a slightly easier time of it.
These people were tough. They had to be. It’s hard for us today to imagine a world in which salt and pepper are considered luxuries. Fortunately, 97 Orchard brings that notion to life.
I really enjoyed reading 97 Orchard. I have a much better picture of the swirling, crammed, dirty, noisy neighborhoods in New York City as it grew by leaps and bounds and immigrants poured in from everywhere else. If you’re interested in the time period (the history of some of the immigrant groups starts earlier than 1864), this is a great resource.
You’ll get a much clearer picture of how people actually ate, day to day, and how hard they worked to get that food, and how grateful they were to have it. There were huge differences between ethnic groups, leading to different outcomes over the years. Eventually though, most people made it up the ladder, at least a rung or two.
What the five families had in common was culture shock. What was normal back home was unavailable or very different in New York City. At one and the same time, there was amazing abundance (if you could afford it) yet you couldn’t find what you were used to eating back home in the old world. Jewish families had the additional burden of having to find food in a strange new world that was kosher.
What you won’t find in 97 Orchard is a discussion of the Chinese (or any other Asian) immigrant experience, African-American, or anyone from Spain, France, Scotland, or any of the other myriad groups that settled in New York City.
Every one of those groups deserves a history of their own.
If you’d like learn more about 97 Orchard Street and you can’t get to New York City to tour the Tenement Museum, here’s their website: https://www.tenement.org/
If you want a copy of the book: https://www.amazon.com/97-Orchard-Immigrant-Families-Tenement/dp/0061288519/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8
Meet the Frugalwoods by Elizabeth Willard Thames.
The information contained within the book is critical to everyone’s financial independence journey but the author wasn’t truthful about her own personal finances.
I’ve done a lot of reading about thrift, self-reliance, and financial independence over the last two decades. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart as what could be more interesting than being able to do the work I want to do and not be a slave to some job I hate?
Financial independence is so important to me and my family that I changed how we lived so we too, as a household, could gain some freedom. I’ve established regular ways of doing things so we stay on our track of not spending any money we don’t have to. Despite everything I’ve learned, I still keep an eye out for new books on the subject as you never know when you will learn something new and useful. Also, reading about thrift and financial independence as achieved by other people helps me stay focused.
It’s inspiring. Other people’s hard work reminds me to keep going and that thrift, like physical fitness, has to be maintained.
You don’t get there and then stop, finished forever. Like life, it’s a process and you’ll never, ever be done until you pass onto your reward.
So I was very interested when I discovered Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living by Elizabeth Willard Thames. Naturally, I got the book from the library.
I had never heard of these people before but they, Mr. and Mrs. Frugalwood, live a happy, debt-free, self-sufficient lifestyle on their sixty-six-acre homestead in the woods of Vermont. Mrs. Frugalwood keeps a blog and has since 2014 or so. It details all their adventures in thrift and how this thriftiness enabled them to flee the city (Cambridge, Mass.) and made their current lifestyle possible.
It’s an interesting book, both for what it says and for what it doesn’t say. I fully agree with Mrs. Frugalwood’s basic themes.
Here they are: Nobody cares about your family and its well-being like you do. You may not control the amount of your income, but you can control how you spend it. There are nearly always cheaper alternatives to buying new. Plan for the long haul. Distinguish clearly between needs and wants. Many needs are actually wants in disguise. You need a place to live in, but does it have to be in a special part of town? You need a car for transportation, but does it have to be brand-new? And finally, you can do it, if you really want to and you set your mind to it. But you gotta wanna. Financial freedom won’t drop into your lap without plenty of effort on your part.
This is all 100% true.
Doing all those boring, mundane things such as hanging winter laundry and saying ‘NO’ continuously helped my household so when my husband got laid off, we weren’t thrown into an instant panic. Instead, he became the full-time writer he always wanted to be, and I’m writing too.
Here’s what I didn’t like about the book.
Despite all Mrs. Frugalwood’s self-flagellating discussions of her ‘privilege’, she carefully glosses over the most important privilege she and her husband have. A quick survey of Google shows that they are rich. They may not claim to be rich, but when the median income of a U.S. household in 2017 is about $58,000 and their annual income (based on public records since Mr. Frugalwoods still works for a non-profit and she used to) is over $200,000; well, you do the math.
We’ve never earned more than the median income for our entire household. In fact, it was a happy day when we made a taxable income of $53,000 in 2012. We couldn’t believe we’d broken $50,000. Then my husband got laid off and since then we’ve lived off our savings as we make a go of the writing business. Let me tell you, this would have been impossible except we’d paid off our house and we had zero debt. I’d be standing behind a supermarket cash register right now, instead of writing this review. Even so, we’re burning through our savings and it has been damn difficult to compress our spending still further. Life insurance? Bye-bye! One car for four licensed drivers? That’s us. Free lunch program at school? You bet! Keeping the house at 64 degrees during the winter? Put on a second sweater and quit complaining.
I think very few of us have to spend every nickel that we do; there are always choices. But it is hard and the smaller your income, the harder it becomes to cut back spending still further to save up an emergency fund and to pay off debt. Money is freedom from hassle. Money is a safety net. More money means you have more freedom of action. The closer you live to the bone, the less room you have to make mistakes. If your income is below the median, you already know this and it’s hugely, enormously irritating to have some rich woman tell you to be thrifty and all your dreams will come true and financial freedom is within your grasp.
Don’t misunderstand me. Mrs. Frugalwood isn’t wrong.
But she also isn’t admitting how the lower your income is to start with, the longer it will take for your household to get to financial freedom. She’s also not talking about how you, if you are starting way down on the food chain, may never get there. But you can get closer; closer so you have some money tucked away in an emergency fund to fix the car when the transmission falls out. Closer so you can take an unpaid day off from work when your kid gets sick. Closer so you can afford the upfront price of giant, economy size packages of toilet paper that cost so much less per roll than buying the small packages, just like the giant, economy size jug of laundry soap costs far less per load than those teensy, cheaper bottles cost when you price out what you are really paying per use.
If you look at what she says about how they got to Vermont by their early thirties and look around at your life and wonder why you haven’t been able to save half your income; well, you probably weren’t earning six figures either. Don’t compare yourself to Mrs. Frugalwood. She didn’t start at the start line like the rest of us; she and her husband began their race with a lap already under their belts.
But don’t discount her either. She’s not wrong. You can get closer to your goals by controlling how you handle your income.
It’s still hard to save serious money. Nothing in our culture encourages thrift. Reward yourself! You deserve it! Treat yourself! You’ve heard every one of those messages your entire life (I know I have) and those messages do not encourage staying home to eat frozen pizza and watch a DVD from the library. There are plenty of six-figure income people who live paycheck to paycheck. Unbelievable, I know, but it is true. It takes self-discipline, team effort, and a vision of a better future to say ‘no’ all the time. It’s so much easier and so much more fun to say ‘yes’.
So as for Mrs. Frugalwood’s book: should you read it? Sure, why not. She’s not wrong. However, get your copy from the library (she doesn’t need your money and your tax dollars already paid for that book) and read those one-star reviews online carefully.
The book you should buy is Amy Dacyczyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette published way back in 1998. The prices are dated and so is some of the information but Amy’s book is still the best guide to achieving financial freedom I’ve ever found. You can easily find a copy in most libraries or online at abebooks.com starting at $6. She made it possible for my household to get there. Start by reading the success stories at the back of the book if you don’t believe me. Those people made it and you can too.
The other book you should think seriously about is Your Money or Your Life: Nine Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. It’s been revised a few times since its original publication. The edition doesn’t matter since the important information remains the same.
If you want to visit Mrs. Frugalwood’s website go to:
If you want to purchase her book online:
Here’s the link to the book you should buy (Amy Dacyczyn’s):
Or, for more philosophy and less practical how-to:
LOSE YOUR BELLY FAT COOKBOOK by Alix Turoff
Publisher blurb: Slim your belly and boost body health and wellness—while eating foods you love. Lose Your Belly Fat Cookbook features a comprehensive two-week meal plan, and 75 easy recipes that are not only delicious but also scientifically designed to shrink your waistline while keeping you full and energized.
The meal plan begins with a two-day smoothie cleanse to reset your metabolism and continues with 12 days of whole foods that feature lean protein, low carbs, and high fiber. You’ll also find nutrition information that helps you understand exactly when and how to eat—for 14 days and beyond.
Lose Your Belly Fat Cookbook includes:
The more you know—Learn the basic biology of how belly fat and gut bacteria work, and how to make them work for you. See your progress—Writing prompts and spaces to record your results let you see how much you’ve achieved. Not just weight—This diet plan is focused on maximizing the health and happiness that come from balanced eating, not just numbers on a scale.
Get on the path to looking and feeling better with Lose Your Belly Fat Cookbook.
This book is broken down into sections that include basic information, a 14-day jump-start plan, and recipes sorted by meals (breakfasts, smoothies, snacks, salads, sandwiches, mains, desserts, etc.). Under the basic or beginning information, there’s a nice formula for helping you decide what calories you need to lose weight. Unfortunately, it’s in metric so I had to do a bunch of conversions from pounds/inches to grams/centimeters before I could use it. Fortunately, the rest of the book—the recipes—use standard American measures so no converting needed there. The recipes look easy to use, are clear and contain tips for substitutions as well as dietary information.
What I liked: clear, easily understood recipes with ingredients that are mostly available. Information that doesn’t put you to sleep reading it. Nice charts to help you figure things out. Color photographs that enhance the book and the recipes. Gluten-free options for many of the recipes.
What I didn’t like: as noted above, no conversion chart for the beginning. There’s a conversion listing in the back of the book, but it doesn’t contain pounds to grams or inches to centimeters so I had to resort to online conversions for this calculation. And although I don’t use sweetener in my smoothies, some people do so suggesting the option of maybe something like stevia would be nice. No dairy free options for the recipes—and issue for many people.
Recommendation: I would recommend this book. It’s got good information and some great recipes that I can’t wait to try.
Thanks to the publisher for providing this review copy in exchange for an honest review.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet One-Pot Cookbook: 100 Easy All-in-One Meals by Ana Reisdorf and Dorothy Calimeris
Blurb: The benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet meet the simplicity of a single pot
An anti-inflammatory diet is a huge step towards healthy eating—but the stress of suffering from pain may leave you feeling exhausted before you even enter the kitchen. With this guide, you can enjoy the benefits of anti-inflammatory foods with the convenience of one-pot cooking.
Complete with labor-saving tips to keep your kitchen time short, these anti-inflammatory diet recipes can be made in one bowl so you can enjoy fast, flavorful meals without the fuss. Fight inflammation and feel great with these one-of-a-kind, one-pot recipes.
This anti-inflammatory diet book includes:
Path to wellness—Discover the health benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet, complete with easy-to-read charts of foods to love, limit, or lose. Taste relief—Whip up fatigue-free dinners with 100 delicious recipes using everyday ingredients. No pain, no strain—Keep your energy up and cook times down with tips on everything from pre-cut vegetables to packing leftovers.
Cook your way to healthier living with this anti-inflammatory diet guide—all you need is one pot.
The recipes are easy, quick with times from 15 minutes to 1 hour, and include a nice selection with clear instructions. The majority of the ingredients can be found easily at most markets, though some—like jicama, pecorino cheese—not. I will also note that it seems that a lot of recipes call for bone broth—not always easy for me to find good ones at my local store and a pain to make. Also, many of the recipes also call for wine—something I don’t use so be forewarned. But I will also say that there are helpful tips for substitutes in many of the recipes.
The images, though a bit sparse, are good and add to the overall look. A few more with the dishes would have been nice.
I’m not sure I agree with the author’s “all-or-nothing” attitude that comes across as a bit harsh. Not everyone can follow this due to other issues. But still…a decent cookbook.
Recommendation: Recommended as a generally good cookbook for those looking to add to a healthy lifestyle.
Thanks to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-up Art by Stephen D. Korshak with J. David Spurlock
Wow. Just wow. This is a gorgeous, lavishly illustrated history of one of the great, forgotten cover artists of the 1930’s pulp magazines.
Artist Margaret Brundage lived an interesting, challenging life but what she is remembered for today are her pulp magazine covers, mainly for Weird Tales. This history reproduces virtually all of her Weird Tales covers along with covers done for other pulps and a smattering of other art.
If you’ve always believed that magazine covers of the 1930’s were dull because kinky sex didn’t exist way back then (postal regulations don’t you know), you are wrong. Sex has always sold magazines and lurid stories need sexy covers. In 1932, Margaret Brundage, purely by accident, stepped onto the scene with her lush pastel chalk artwork of virtually or entirely naked women being menaced by other virtually naked women, savages and barbarians, demons, evil statues, snakes, and predatory beasts.
The publisher of Oriental Stories was smitten when she walked in one day with her portfolio. Where had she been all his life with her carefully detailed, luminescent-fleshed damsels in distress? He didn’t know until that moment he had been looking for soft-focus, softcore porn to sell magazines. How he got those illustrations past the post office censors and onto newsstands across the country is a mystery.
Leafing through the book is an exercise in saying over and over “Oh my God. Look at this one.” After the initial shock wears off, you’ll be able to see how Weird Tales liked to pair Margaret with Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Seabury Quinn and a host of other pulp greats. She matched them so well! What would Conan the Barbarian do without terrified naked damsels to rescue? Her cover art for Howard’s story Red Nails is definitely one for the ages.
Nobody illustrated curvaceous flesh like Margaret; sensuous, living bodies captured in that most fragile of mediums, pastel chalk. Her men look good too.
If you need to justify gaping at naughty pictures by reading, there is plenty of text to go along with the full-page illustrations. You’ll find Margaret’s biography, information about the pulp era, the difficulties faced by Weird Tales and the move to New York that damaged Margaret’s career (pastel chalk doesn’t ship well), interviews, even an extensive discussion of the radical politics in 1930’s Chicago. Margaret lived a fascinating life.
If you’re interested in the pulps, Chicago in the 1930’s, or book and magazine covers, this is a terrific resource.
Why do I give this book four sparklers instead of five? I wanted to see more of Margaret Brundage’s art. Unfortunately, chalk pastel is probably the most fragile art medium there is and pulp magazines were ephemera to be read and thrown out. Who knows what Margaret Brundage treasures still lurk in attics, waiting to be rediscovered? She also had a career after Weird Tales left Chicago, but not much of it was reproduced in the book. I understand. The focus was on her pulp magazine covers. Nonetheless, if there was space for radical Chicago politics, there was space for more of her other art.
If you’d like to learn more about Margaret Brundage, here are some places to start.
YOU CAN PREVENT A STROKE by Joshua S. Yamamoto and Kristin E. Thomas
Our hearts beat over 100,000 times a day. That’s a lot of work for that one organ, and as we age, it gets a little tired. According to the doctors who wrote this book, “natural aging leads to artery plaque, high blood pressure, and slower and irregular heartbeats.” This can lead to poor heart/circulatory health which can lead to a stroke. Even though strokes affect our brain, they start with the heart.
In this book, the authors help you understand what you can do to help yourself. And no, it’s not “you need to diet! You need to exercise! You need to…” (though those are both good things). It’s about how to make sure you have good heart health, which helps your circulation, which helps you prevent stroke.
The doctors are strong proponents of medication in addition to healthy lifestyle. Medication that helps with plaque buildup, that lowers blood pressure, that reduces cholesterol. These things are all necessary to overall health. You can be a very fit marathon runner and still have poor heart health. Or you can be a couch potato, but if you’re taking your meds and being careful, you can have better heart health than that marathon runner.
The book is clear, concise, and easy to read and understand. The big thing to take away from reading this is that you have to be proactive and work with your doctor to make sure you are doing what is necessary to ensure your heart health—and thus your brain health.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to be more proactive about their heart/brain health. I’d also recommend it for doctors to read so they can then recommend it to their patients for something that may help them understand what’s going on and why certain tests are necessary. It’s not a comprehensive book—you’re not going to be reading a textbook—but for the average person, it’s a good place to start. There should be a copy in every doctor’s office for patients to look at.
Thank you to the publisher for providing this book free for an honest review
Everyday Keto Baking by Erica Kerwien
This was an interesting cookbook – colorful, informative, and with some really good recipes that include both sweet and savory dishes.
I loved that the author included conversions for substituting different ingredients. Recipes included both weight and volume measurements and–my favorite–“per serving” stats for those of us who need to know these things.
The recipes are clear and easy to follow with mostly easy-to-find ingredients. For those “oddball” ones like the sugar substitutions–she included places where the reader can find the ingredients.
All recipes are gluten-free, some are dairy and/or egg free as well – a huge plus for those on these specialized diets. As someone who is both gluten and lactose intolerant, I especially appreciated this.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who follows the Keto diet or someone who is gluten intolerant–or to someone who just wants something a little different in their cookbook collection and food choices.