Book 37 of 52: Midnight in Cairo: The Divas of Egypt’s Roaring ’20s by Raphael Cormack

In my last post, I said that I had two more reviews that would touch on my travel. Here’s the one of those.

I downloaded the audio book if Midnight in Cairo: The Divas of Egypt’s Roaring ’20s by Raphael Cormack for my road trip. I like to either listen to celebrities reading their memoirs, or books about slices of history that I might not sit down to read in physical form otherwise.

I knew about the Egyptology craze that took over the Brits (and Australians) in the 1920s because I’ve seen it depicted in historical shows like Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. But I didn’t know why, exactly, and a part of that was the vibrant nightlife that existed in Cairo between the world wars, mostly on Emad al-​Din Street. Cormack shows that story by writing about the lives of women who worked in the clubs, theaters, and dance halls at the time, for better or for worse. It’s striking that some of their struggles, like bodily autonomy and financial freedom from men, is the same that many women face 100 years later. And of course depressing too.

Sounds fascinating right? But thee […]

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Book 32 of 52: Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Troublemakers by Nick Offerman

Hello from [checks map] Oklahoma City! I am well into my road trip, and trying to reshuffle and repack my stuff for the next leg, so this review of Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Troublemakers by Nick Offerman will be brief.

Offerman is a good writer, but this isn’t his best work. It’s his second book, and may be my least favorite. He admits that he chose some of the people to profile here because he really wanted to meet them. It read (or sounded since I listened to the audiobook) incredibly self-indulgent. It also seems like more of an idea cooked up to capitalize on the success of his first book, Paddle Your Own Canoe, than something that he was burning to write.

The good news is he’s gotten much better (and has taken classes from George Saunders, one of the people he profiles). So if you’re looking for some Offerman, I’d recommend Where the Dear and the Antelope Play (which was Book 35 of 2022) or The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, which he wrote with his wife Megan Mullally, which is one of my favorite audiobooks ever, instead.

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Book 26 of 52: ¡Hola Papi! How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons by John Paul Brammer

John Paul Brammer got his start the way a lot of us freelancer writers do: we need to make a living, and we can write. So we do what we can to pay the bills until we figure out what it is we really want to do.

And then sometimes, the thing you do while you think you’re waiting for your big break becomes it. For Brammer, that was writing an advice column for Grindr. It became so popular that it lead to ¡Hola Papi! How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons.

I recognize a small subset of the beats of this story when it comes to his career: becoming a freelance writer, trying to figure out how to find good clients and stable work and sometimes slogging through assignments you’re just doing for the money (I didn’t write recaps of gay porn but I did write things that I’m relieved do not live in the internet). But everything else was a look into a world I don’t know. I’m not a gay Mexican-American man from rural Oklahoma. I didn’t have any of the same experiences he did as a kid then young man an […]

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Book 19 of 52: A House in the Mountains: The Women Who Liberated Italy from Fascism by Caroline Moorehead

Yes, folks, I am still at it, trying to read every book about Italy in the English language before my trip in November. But not everything written about the country is about beauty, food and wine. Italy is not utopia and right now, things there are politically grim. A lot of that goes back to the country’s fascist rule during WW II, a movement that was never really stamped out.

But let’s get to the book first: A House in the Mountains: The Women Who Liberated Italy from Fascism, the last in Caroline Moorehead’s resistance quartet (I’ve read two other ones: A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France; and Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France). In this non-fiction work, she tells the story of the staffette, the women couriers of the Italian resistance that fought a Guerilla war against the Germans and their Italian fascists collaborators. The house of the title is in Turin, a town I’m trying to add to my fall trip itinerary.

I listened to this one and didn’t take notes (because I was often driving!), so if you’d like to know more details,

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Book 6 of 52: Mengele: Unmasking the Angel of Death by David G. Marwell

I’ve had a copy of Mengele: Unmasking the Angel of Death by David G. Marwell in one form or another since before the book was published in 2020. The publisher sent me a galley (a preview copy), then the final book. They both stayed on my shelf for a while — 2020 was not exactly a time when I was looking for deep history tomes. I then added it as an audiobook to my cue. After I finished Operation Paperclip, which was Book 64 of 2002, I figured it was now or never.

Which might have been a terrible idea. Josef Mengele was an SS officer and physician who performed grotesque experiments in concentration camp prisoners. His nickname, if you can even call it that, was “Angel of Death.” Operation Paperclip was a tough read because it went deep into a lot of the worst things Nazis did (before showing how some of the perpetrators found fruitful lives in the United States). And while Mengele isn’t easy, the book doesn’t focus too long on his crimes.

Instead, the primary narrative is on how Mengele escaped Germany after the war, and then his hop scotch across South America avoiding capture […]

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Book 64 of 52: Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America by Annie Jacobson

Two warnings on this post.

First the serious one: this review is in part about the Holocaust. If you want to skip it given everything that’s going on right now, I completely understand. I also put warnings in the post about where the rough stuff is. It’s also why, after looking at the post after it published, I changed the featured image. I don’t think anything’s wrong with the cover, but I don’t want to shove a hate symbol into your day, especially during Hanukkah.

Second, the less serious note: this post discusses the first season of the Apple TV+ show For All Mankind and will contain  mild spoilers. That bit comes at the end of the post, and I’ll give another warning with {SPOILERS AHEAD}.

Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America by Annie Jacobson is about just that: Operation Paperclip, a U.S. intelligence program that brought 1,600 Nazi scientists to the country after World War II. The program got its name from the practice of adding a paperclip to the files of scientists they wanted, despite what those scientists did during the war.

And those “what those scientists dids” were often […]

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Book 59 of 52: We Were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story by Simu Liu

Let’s take a trip with a very handsome man! Simu Liu, who is most known as the lead in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings. He has quite a story to tell in We Were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story. And most of it is not about Hollywood.

Liu is a Chinese-Canadian actor who spent the first four years of his life in China with his grandparents, as his parents scraped their way to establishing a new life for the three of them in Canada. When Liu was finally able to join them, it wasn’t a perfect reunion. Not only were his parents essentially raising a small child they didn’t know, but they also pressured him to succeed in sometimes cruel ways. No way around it: they beat him, and did things like lock him out of the apartment if he was bad. They made him feel worthless if he was not at the top of his class, and beyond, in everything.

I thought a lot about book 44 in this series, I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy. The big differences are that his parents didn’t want Liu to have anything to do with […]

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Priceless by Robert K Wittman book cover

Book 50 of 52: Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman and John Shiffman

Who doesn’t love a good heist story? And who doesn’t want to listen to a book about heists and exactly how FBI got back said heisted items while driving across the midwest?

I like both of these things, which is how I ended up listening to Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman and John Shiffman on my recent road trip to the National Parks of Minnesota and Michigan. What a ride — both the book and that vacation. Turnpikes are convenient but wow sometimes very boring. It helps to have something interesting to listen to along the way.Wittman is a former FBI agent who created a niche for himself while still at the Bureau: art, antiques, jewelry and gem identification. While working at the Philadelphia bureau office, he retrieved a startling number of key works — more than $300 million worth, according to his website. Those include Geronimo’s War Bonnet, a Peruvian backflap that had been looted from a tomb, Rembrant’s Self Portrait, a Civil War battle flag carried by the 127th United States Colored Infantry Regiment, and an original copy of the Bill of Rights.

For each recovered piece of art, Wittman (and co-writer […]

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Book 44 of 52: I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

I listened to the audiobook of Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died while packing for and then starting my road trip to the national parks of Minnesota and Michigan, and often had to stop the recording to process what I’d just heard.

It is one of the most harrowing celebrity memoirs I’ve ever read. It comes with every kind of content warning you could imagine. I’m going to share some of what she wrote about here, so if you need to click out of this one, I completely understand.

McCurdy was a child star pushed into show business by her mother, an abusive narcissist who taught her daughter how to be anorexic, did “exams” on her into her late teens, didn’t let McCurdy shower herself (and often showered her together with her teenage brother), and didn’t even let her wipe herself after she went to the bathroom until she was at least eight years old (she describes the behavior at that age but if she said when it ended, I didn’t catch it).

The book is about that life, and also what her mother pushed her into: a role in the Nickelodeon show iCarly, whose producer, Dan Schneider, has been […]

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Book 41 of 52: Unmask Alice: LSD, the Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson

I don’t remember how old I was when I read Go Ask Alice by Anonymous, but I do remember where I was. Until I went to college, I spent most of my summers in a campground at the Jersey Shore. My mom would take us to the beach in the morning, then drop us off at the campground pool on the way back and tell us to stay there until dinner. It must have been July or August because the pool was packed, so much so that all the chairs were all taken, and the only place I could sit was my beach chair. That’s where I stayed was on a beautiful summer day, enraptured by the “diary” of Alice, a drug addicted teenager.

I hadn’t thought about the book in years, until I listened to an episode of the You’re Wrong About podcast that featured Rick Emerson, author of the new book Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries. They dissected exactly why the book is implausible, which seems obvious to me now in a way that teenage me, who of course had D.A.R.E. classes at school, couldn’t see. None of […]

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