Becky Libourel Diamond

Lauren Graham is perhaps best known for her acting, particularly her role as the young, headstrong single mom Lorelai in the television show “Gilmore Girls.” But Graham, who has a bachelor’s degree in English from Barnard College and master’s of fine arts in acting performance from Southern Methodist University, is also the accomplished author of a novel (Someday, Someday, Maybe), a collection of personal essays (Talking as Fast as I Can) and a book of advice for graduates (In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It). 

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Graham’s second book of personal essays, Have I Told You This Already?: Stories I Don’t Want to Forget to Remember, is composed of 15 insightful pieces relaying impactful moments and life lessons that have shaped who she is. She explains how her creative outlook was molded by people and experiences from her youth. For example, although her mother was largely absent from her upbringing, Graham sees a positive side to this fact: “I think not growing up with my mom means I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what a mom is supposed to be!” 

Graham takes the reader on a behind-the-scenes tour of Hollywood, sharing acting jargon such as “pumpkin” (the term for when child actors have to be done working for the day) and “sold it in the room” (getting backing from someone with clout). She’s candid about the demands of show business, too, and the acrobatics that actors have to perform to fit into the Hollywood mold. In a chapter aptly named “Forever 32,” Graham reflects on aging, comparing her recollections of being a 20-something to when, at the age of 32, she realized “I had a sense of myself I’d never had before.” She also muses about her days as a young actor, hustling to various jobs while trying to make it. These stories and anecdotes are especially raw, real and humorous.

Graham’s writing is fresh, sharp and very funny, with fast, staccato sentences that evoke what it must be like to have a conversation with her. Her voice invites the reader in, emanating a refreshing openness that will make them want to be her best friend. Have I Told You This Already? is an enjoyable, amusing revelation.

Actor Lauren Graham’s second collection of essays is fresh, sharp and very funny, with staccato sentences that evoke what it must be like to have a conversation with her.

Actor Paul Newman was known for many things: acting, car racing, philanthropy through his Newman’s Own food business and, of course, his rugged good looks and piercing blue eyes. He was a beloved Hollywood icon, but he didn’t think of himself that way. In fact, he wrestled with internal demons throughout his life.

Newman’s memoir, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, composed posthumously from interviews he began conducting in 1986 with the help of screenwriter and close friend Stewart Stern, is raw, honest and revealing. Through his own reminiscences and those of his contemporaries, including Elia Kazan, Stuart Rosenberg, Eva Marie Saint and Tom Cruise, the book provides a firsthand glimpse of Newman’s life and how his choices affected those around him. His upbringing, military service in World War II, first marriage to Jackie Witt, second marriage to actor Joanne Woodward, six children and professional and personal endeavors are all laid out on the table.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Even after he became famous, Newman was often unsure of himself. Part of this stemmed from the fact that he likely had a learning disability. The way he was treated by his parents, especially his mother, was also detrimental. She could be hurtful and treated him like a dress-up doll rather than a son. Newman’s memories of his father depict the man as an indifferent alcoholic. Unfortunately, this contributed to Newman’s own problems with alcoholism, as well as his son Scott’s substance issues and depression—burdens Newman carried his whole life.

But Newman also had more positive traits, from charisma and humor to compassion and business savvy. These qualities pop up throughout the book and were obvious to those who knew him. But even after all his success, he just couldn’t seem to shake his feelings of self-doubt. “If I had to define ‘Newman’ in the dictionary, I’d say: ‘One who tries too hard,’” he writes. The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man is a humble and candid look into the life of a celebrated but often misunderstood man.

In Paul Newman’s posthumous memoir, his upbringing, military service, marriages, children and professional endeavors are all laid out on the table.

Listening to music is a uniquely personal experience. It can evoke strong feelings and memories. It can unite us or be a source of debate. In This Is What It Sounds Like: What the Music You Love Says About You, Susan Rogers (cognitive neuroscientist and Berklee College of Music professor) and Ogi Ogas (mathematical neuroscientist and co-author of Journey of the Mind) explain why we connect with certain aspects of a record. As a producer for artists as distinct as Prince and Barenaked Ladies, Rogers calls on decades of expertise regarding the musical preferences of herself and others. This real-world experience is intertwined with both authors’ scientific explanations of how the mind processes music. It’s like two books in one: stories of some of our most beloved musicians, singers and songwriters, coupled with insights about how and why our brains decipher musical notes, melodies and lyrics in particular ways.

Rogers refers time and again to an activity called a “record pull,” a music-sharing experience where friends discover things about one another by listening to their favorite records together. “Good record pulls feature as much storytelling as music,” she writes. Each chapter features a record pull suggestion to help us understand how we connect with music. It’s a fun, informative exercise that will undoubtedly open many readers’ minds and increase their musical knowledge.

In a tone that is both logical and approachable, the two authors explain that because each brain is wired to experience rewards from different facets of music, “it is misguided to suggest that anyone’s taste in music is superior to anyone else’s.” After reading This Is What It Sounds Like, lovers of all music genres will never listen to their favorite records the same way again.

This Is What It Sounds Like is like two books in one: stories of some of our most beloved musicians coupled with insights about how our brains decipher music.

There are any number of events that could trigger a global apocalypse: climate change, a virus, nuclear war, an asteroid, the rise of artificial intelligence. Would anyone be able to survive? A group of elitist technology billionaires have seriously pondered this very question, spending a great deal of time and money to plan how they alone might outlive this inevitable catastrophic event, leaving the rest of us in the dust.

In Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires, professor of media theory and digital economics Douglas Rushkoff (Team Human) explains how this evacuation plan came to be and what it means for the future. When Rushkoff was invited to an exclusive desert resort for what he thought was a speech on the future of technology, he was shocked to find that his audience was just five super wealthy men “from the upper echelon of the tech investing and hedge fund world.” As it turned out, they had summoned him to pick his brain about how best to insulate themselves from “the very real and present danger” of a mass extinction, even asking him whether New Zealand or Alaska would be rendered less uninhabitable by the coming climate crisis.

Each chapter of Survival of the Richest focuses on a different aspect of how these tech billionaires have gotten to this place in our society and the origins of their entitled way of thinking. Rushkoff calls this Silicon Valley escapism “The Mindset,” a frame of mind that “encourages its adherents to believe that the winners can somehow leave the rest of us behind.” He skillfully uses his extensive background in media theory to explain The Mindset in such clear terms, it’s scary. For example, he proposes that The Mindset allows for the easy externalization of harm to others: Its very structure requires an endgame, with a clear winner and loser, in which the winners are the ones who have found “a means of escape from the apocalypse of their own making.”

Of course the irony in all of this is that “these people once showered the world with madly optimistic business plans for how technology might benefit human society,” Rushkoff writes. “Now they’ve reduced technological progress to a video game that one of them wins by finding the escape hatch.” Numbing and mind-blowing in equal measure, Survival of the Richest is a true story that seems straight out of a science fiction tale.

Numbing and mind-blowing in equal measure, Survival of the Richest reveals how tech billionaires are planning to survive a global apocalypse.

Climate change is now ingrained in our daily lives. Newscasts almost always have a climate-related segment, whether it’s about a new science report on the status of the world’s temperatures or about natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and droughts. Most of today’s children will not know what life was like before the world began to change so drastically, but for now, many still remember the world as it used to be.

There are a huge number of books on the scientific aspects of global warming, from pleading calls to action to sustainability guidebooks. But what about essays and memoirs from everyday people? Stories about how climate change is personally affecting us and about its emotional impact on our lives? In their new book, The World As We Knew It: Dispatches From a Changing Climate, editors Amy Brady (executive director of Orion) and Tajja Isen (editor of Catapult magazine and author of Some of My Best Friends) have pulled together a diverse, impactful set of essays that explore the climate crisis from these more intimate angles. Kim Stanley Robinson, Melissa Febos, Lacy M. Johnson, Omar El Akkad and 15 other writers from around the world share how familiar landscapes are becoming unrecognizable and how the rhythms of their daily lives are being forever altered.

Each author brings a unique style and focus to their topic, with prose that is in varying degrees lyrical, reflective and urgent. Some relay extreme weather events, such as Mary Annaïse Heglar in “After the Storm,” about the blatant systemic racism that emerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “Structural racism and inequality collide with fearsome extreme weather to reveal the grotesque unnaturalness of disaster,” she writes. This concept is continued in Rachel Riederer’s “Walking on Water,” which covers the displacement of people, usually people of color, that’s happening more and more as sea levels rise.

It’s not only deadly weather events that are highlighted in The World As We Knew It. Chronicling the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, “How Do You Live With Displacement” by author Emily Raboteau discusses the parallels between COVID and climate change. In “Leap,” journalist Meera Subramanian writes wistfully about how the nature she loves most keeps changing, especially as ticks carrying Lyme disease keep multiplying in the Northeast as temperatures and carbon dioxide levels climb.

As Subramanian writes in her essay, “We used to be a story in nature. Now we are the story.” This statement reverberates throughout all the essays in The World As We Knew It, providing one example after another of the ways climate change has affected every region of the Earth. It is a warning that commands the full attention of every reader.

The 19 lyrical, reflective and urgent essays in The World As We Knew It command the full attention of every reader.

Dinosaurs are such a large part of our culture—from books, movies and amusement park rides to children’s toys, clothing and even dino-shaped chicken nuggets—that it’s hard to imagine a time before we knew these huge beasts walked the earth millions of years before us.

The backstory to that revelation is thrillingly outlined in a new book by Reuters senior reporter David K. Randall (Dreamland) called The Monster’s Bones: The Discovery of T. Rex and How It Shook Our World. While on an outing to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, Randall and his family kept circling back to the captivating, terrifyingly surreal Tyrannosaurus rex exhibit, prompting his son to ask, “Who found these dinosaurs?” This perfectly reasonable inquiry inspired Randall to consider “the human stories behind prehistoric bones.”

In The Monster’s Bones, Randall delves into early fossil discoveries and scientists’ subsequent interpretations of these bones’ origins. As it turns out, industry titans weren’t the only ruthlessly determined men of the Gilded Age. This era also inspired the “bone wars,” literally a race to find the largest and most complete dinosaur skeletons. Housing these displays at museums and universities was a huge status symbol and a way to draw in the public and boost admission.

Randall focuses on the stories of two very different men who participated in this competition: paleontologist and Princeton graduate Henry Fairfield Osborn, and Barnum Brown, a farmer’s son from Kansas who was a skilled fossil hunter. Brown would travel thousands of miles, from the American West to Patagonia, in order to hunt down prize specimens for Osborn’s American Museum of Natural History. Their intertwined story is full of adventure, intrigue and conflict, leading up to Brown’s world-changing discovery of the ferocious T. rex.

Exciting as any action tale, The Monster’s Bones features characters from all walks of life, from cowboys and ranchers to scientists, railroad magnates and university scholars. As with any valuable assets, greed was a big factor driving this race to succeed. However, it also pushed science ahead by leaps and bounds, leading to findings that still inform paleontologists and biologists today.

Exciting as any action tale, The Monster’s Bones shares the human stories behind some of history’s most thrilling fossil discoveries.

The tale of a British ship called the Bounty and the subsequent mutiny of some of its sailors has been endlessly scrutinized, romanticized and depicted ever since the event occurred in the late 1700s. With so many memoirs, historical accounts and fictional tales based on the Bounty’s story, it’s easy to assume that nothing new could be unearthed or written about it. But in his debut book, The Far Land: 200 Years of Murder, Mania, and Mutiny in the South Pacific, travel journalist Brandon Presser does exactly that, and brilliantly. By sifting through many of these prior texts, as well as other resources such as captain’s logs and interviews, Presser has managed to create a fact-based book that reads as grippingly as any thriller.

As a travel writer, Presser has crisscrossed the world to report on memorable locales and adventures. When he was offered the chance to do a story on Pitcairn, the tiny, isolated isle in the South Pacific that became the home of the Bounty’s mutineers, and where 48 of their descendants still live, he knew he had to take it, driven by his need “to know what happened when you fell off the map.” Visiting Pitcairn, a full month’s journey from his home in New York, certainly falls into that category.

Presser spent three years researching and writing this thorough account of the mutiny on the Bounty and its aftermath. In the process, Presser spent time on both Pitcairn Island and Norfolk Island in Australia, where some of the mutineers’ descendants later migrated. His narrative toggles between past and present, fleshing out the timeline of events—epic in nature and sprawling in scope—and cast of characters, particularly the Tahitians who accompanied the mutineers to Pitcairn and whose roles have previously been underrepresented.

Although some facts remain a mystery (such as the breaking point that made Fletcher Christian snap and take over the ship from Captain William Bligh), Presser’s detailed interpretation allows many of the formerly fuzzy pieces to fall into place. His personal experience on the islands combined with fastidious research make The Far Land such an incredible, unforgettable tale that Presser had to stress in an author’s note that it is “indeed a work of nonfiction.”

Brandon Presser's brilliant book about the infamous 1700s mutiny aboard the Bounty is as gripping as any thriller.

The terms endangered and extinct are most commonly applied to animal species, particularly as human activities encroach on wildlife habitats worldwide. But the global human population explosion over the past few centuries has also wreaked havoc on human nutrition, decreasing food diversity and threatening the global food supply and our environment in general.

Food journalist Dan Saladino spent over 10 years researching at-risk foods and food cultures, and his discoveries about the dangerous consequences of decreased food diversity are outlined in Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them. This decline in diversity isn’t necessarily visible to consumers now that food is shipped all over the world, seemingly providing more variety to many of our diets. However, in order to feed an ever-increasing population, major food crops such as rice, wheat and corn have become more and more homogeneous, making them more susceptible to disease and less nutritious.

Saladino traverses the globe to find out what scientists, conservationists and food experts are doing to dial back the increasing sameness in our diets. His journalistic skills are key as he interviews a wide range of people, from food corporation executives and government officials to botanists and farmers. Divided into 10 parts about topics such as cereals, vegetables, meat and fruit, each section covers food from many locations around the world, such as bere barley from Orkney, Scotland, and the Kayinja banana from Uganda. A map key in the front of the book pinpoints each setting, providing geographical context.

Fascinating and extremely well written, Eating to Extinction combines comprehensive history with science, culture and geography. At 464 pages, it’s a lengthy tome that undoubtedly could have been much longer, as it just scratches the surface regarding the number of foodstuffs affected by diminishing biodiversity. Saladino raises a serious issue that needs to be addressed with global urgency and cooperation.

Dan Saladino spent over 10 years researching foods that are at risk of going extinct, culminating in the fascinating and well-written Eating to Extinction.

Motherhood is a joyful gift, from a cooing baby’s first smile to a tottering toddler’s first steps, through the school-age years and into adulthood. Yet accompanying this amazing gift is perhaps the worst fear imaginable: that something could happen to your child. This worry resides in the back of every mother’s mind, simmering like a bubbling stew, punching through the joy when a child is sick, injured or suffering.

In her debut memoir, This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown, Taylor Harris beautifully and heartbreakingly describes how this fear struck like a lightning bolt when her son Tophs began to experience a string of health issues that baffled medical experts. She struggled through the highs and lows of one diagnosis after another, all while coping with her own anxiety disorder and the systemic racism that, as a Black woman living in Charlottesville, Virginia, obstructed her path to accessing the best medical care for herself and her son. Tophs underwent test after test, including genetic testing that revealed the presence of a dreaded gene in their family.

Harris lays all these cards on the table, telling her story with raw candor and wit. She delves into her childhood experiences with anxiety and the subsequent assistance that helped her cope, including both counseling and medicine. These honest revelations provide a touchstone to her experiences as an adult, especially the unbelievable stress she faced while dealing with the unknown.

As a result, This Boy We Made is many books in one, combining elements of science and medicine, mental health and wellness, parenting principles and institutional racism. Fusing all these themes together in an entertaining and thoughtful way would seem an exhausting task, yet Harris does it with honesty and grace. With descriptive, poetic prose, her authentic message commands the reader’s full attention.

Taylor Harris beautifully describes how fear struck like a lightning bolt when her son began to experience baffling health issues.

Smell is such an integral part of being human, yet it’s probably our least thought-about sense. We take it for granted, often focusing instead on what we can see, hear, taste and touch. But what if we had a guidebook on how to approach life through smell and take advantage of the aromas that confront our noses throughout the day?

This is essentially what author Jude Stewart (Patternalia) provides in her new book, Revelations in Air: A Guidebook to Smell, a comprehensive handbook chock-full of guidance, advice and new ways to experience a sense that is barely understood. Stewart writes that smell’s “liveness,” its dynamic and embodied nature, is what drew her to it and led her on a journey to sniff with more intention. Along the way she realized that “smelling is a kind of meditation turned inside out.

Starting with the science of smell, Stewart discusses the nose’s function and purpose, outlining the chemistry required for smell “to reach us,” the anatomical role of the body’s olfactory bulbs and smell’s emotional connection to the brain and memory. She then breaks various smells into categories such as sweet, savory, earthy and funky. The usual suspects are featured, such as rose, vanilla and bacon, as well as some surprising scents many of us will never get a chance to experience, including cannon fire, melting permafrost and extinct flowers.

Stewart effortlessly combines the fascinating science behind smell with historical examples, musical comparisons and cultural differences in how smells are viewed and experienced. Revelations in Air gives a fresh perspective on and appreciation for this often-ignored sense.

Jude Stewart provides a guidebook to smell that’s chock-full of guidance, advice and new ways to experience the aromas around us.

Many gourmands are restless from hunkering down these past several months, and the added cold weather is enough to make anyone a bit stir-crazy. But never fear—we’ve rounded up five books that are sure to warm hearts as well as ovens.

Bread Therapy

Bread Therapy: The Mindful Art of Baking Bread couldn’t have come at a better time. Ever since quarantine renewed people’s interest in making home-cooked food for themselves and their loved ones, baking supplies have been flying off the shelves. Yeast is a rare and precious commodity. Sourdough starters are the stars of Instagram. As a university counselor, Pauline Beaumont understands the therapeutic qualities of baking, which takes people out of their comfort zones and allows them to make mistakes. This book’s seven chapters highlight these ideals, intertwining words of wisdom with some interesting bread recipes, such as spinach flatbread and dill and beet bread. As much a self-help book as a cookbook, Bread Therapy is a welcome instructional guide to practicing self-acceptance, staying grounded and making something delicious.

A Field Guide to Cheese 

And what better to top your bread with than cheese? A Field Guide to Cheese: How to Select, Enjoy, and Pair the World’s Best Cheeses is a cheese lover’s dream, educating aficionados through gorgeous pictures and fun, colorful graphics. Cheese expert and journalist Tristan Sicard lays out the book nicely, starting off with “A Quick Chronology of Cheese” that spans from 5000 B.C. to the present day. This is followed by a diagram of dairy breeds—not only cow but also goat, sheep and even buffalo. The 11 families of cheese are also outlined, including information about color, texture, recommended serving tools and emblematic varieties. Finally, each cheese gets its own entry, with over 400 individual profiles in all, including the dairy breed, region of origin, an enticing illustration and a brief description. Further information is given about pairing, preparing and serving cheese, and there’s even a section about how to properly wrap cheese for storage. 

Very Merry Cocktails

Although cheese is usually paired with wine, a creative connoisseur might enjoy a slice with some of the fun drinks featured in Very Merry Cocktails: 50+ Festive Drinks for the Holiday Season. Food writer Jessica Strand (Cooking for Two) provides several helpful cocktail hints, including a list of useful bar tools (stocking stuffer ideas, anyone?), syrup and garnish recipes and tips on how to rim a glass with sugar or salt. Five chapters of holiday cocktail recipes follow, including champagne sippers, holiday party punches and nonalcoholic libations. The recipes are innovative and easy to follow, such as Christmas in July, a tropical-inspired drink featuring crème de coconut, pineapple juice and rum for “when you’re craving warm summer days.” There are also festive twists on old favorites, such as the Moscow Reindeer, a riff on the gingery Moscow Mule. All are complemented by stylish midcentury-inspired photos that capture the season’s celebratory sparkle. 

Hungry Games

Perhaps the most unique spin on a cookbook for this holiday season is Hungry Games: A Delicious Book of Recipe Repairs, Word Searches & Crosswords for the Food Lover, essentially a cookbook of 50 recipes that each contain 10 mistakes for the reader to find. These “puzzles” are ranked in difficulty from easy (such as an apple crumble pie that instructs the baker to toss the apples with pears) to hard (a peach galette that says to mix water with red wine vinegar to make the dough, when it should actually be white distilled vinegar). Luckily there’s an answer key to check your culinary skill, as well as lots of food-themed crosswords and word searches. The result is an unusual and fun gift for the foodie who has everything.

The Best American Food Writing 2020

The 25 short essays in The Best American Food Writing 2020 were actually written in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, but that doesn’t make them any less thoughtful or relevant. This year’s editor, the chef and author J. Kenji López-Alt (The Food Lab), writes that although he’s afraid “the book will read like a time capsule,” the pieces he’s selected are still significant to the future of food writing. Topics from substance abuse in restaurant kitchens and the burgeoning global market for baby food, to Jamie Oliver’s eccentric stardom and how spring water is bottled are tackled with humor and consequence, as well as a bit of history mixed in to provide a touchstone between the past and present. All of these wide-ranging pieces were originally published in sources typically known for provocative food writing, such as Eater, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Having them all in one place is a boon for the Epicurean reader.

If you’re looking for the perfect holiday gift for the gastronome in your life, these books will keep them engaged long after the table’s been cleared.

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