Book 16 of 52: They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

As I plan this summer’s cross country road trip, I’m figuring out with National Park Service units (there are more than 400!) I want to see along the way. I read Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (and her husband James D. Houston) as Book 22 of last year, which puts the Manzanar National Historic Site in Independence, California on the list.

Actor and activist George Takei may be the most public face of the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. They Called Us Enemy is the graphic novel version of his story. And while he was sent to different sites than Manzanar, these two books feel like companion reading.

Where Houston’s perspective is more of a child experiencing what she did, this graphic novel is from the perspective of an adult looking back at what happened, and the reverberations of that across his whole life, using a discussion Takei had with Kermit Roosevelt III at Hyde Park in 2017 as the starting point (fun fact: one of the first authors I ever profiled was Kermit, when he published his first book, In The Shadow of the Law).

I used “incarcerated” instead of “interned” […]

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Book 15 of 52: A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi

As I mentioned a the end of last week’s Friday Folio, I have been querying agents for a new book I want to write, and part of the process is telling them what very successful book you think yours will be like. At the same time, I was also reading A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi. I’m guessing it was pitched as the next Under the Tuscan Sun, which was Book 34 last year. It even has recipes.

Good marketing if that’s the case, though I don’t think this book is quite at the level.

De Blasi is an American chef and writer who traveled to Italy often to write about food. She meets a stranger (who she often calls The Stranger) while in Venice, and he convinces her to give up her home and her restaurant in the U.S. and move with him to Venice to be his wife — right then and there. Despite her friends telling her no, she does it anyway.

I picked up some bad vibes from the Stranger, including but not limited to he seems to dominate her life, and tries to make her a kept woman, so much of the book […]

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Book 13 of 52: Corrections in Ink by Keri Blakinger

When Keri Blakinger first made big headlines, it wasn’t for a good reason. She was a former figure skater turned heroin addict, charged with a second-degree felony for having about $50,000 worth of the drug.

She’s now a staff writer with the Marshall Project, covering prisons and jails.

So how did Blakinger get from point A to point B? Or, really, from point A (skater) to B (felon) to C (respected journalist)?

That’s what she writes about in her memoir Corrections in Ink, which came out last year. She details her skating career (she reached nationals in pairs skating), eating disorder, attempted suicide, drug addiction, life behind bars, and how she found sobriety and journalism.

Parts of the book, especially about Blakinger early life, reminded me of the work of Caroline Knapp (RIP), specifically Drinking: A Love Story and Appetites: Why Women Want. All three books address trying to fill a gap in their lives with someone else, whether that was alcohol, drugs, or trying to wrest control of something by beating up their bodies through food or lack thereof.

They’re all engrossing but tough reads, and I don’t recommend them if things like descriptions of food rituals and/or disordered eating are […]

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Book 11 of 52: The Devil’s Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance by Dan Egan

Here I am again with a review but not really, because I might be interviewing the author for work. I’ve put off posting something until I know, but alas! Time marches on.

But I can say that Dan Egan’s The Devil’s Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance, which is out on March 7, is a quick trip into a very bad problem: that overuse and not very good use of phosphorus-rich fertilizer is wrecking our waterways. Right as I finished this book, the Florida Department of Health issued and alert about an algae bloom in Florida’s Lake Okeechobee — one of the lakes Egan writes about. The book is full of WTF moments, possibly none more than that the bones of soldiers killed in the 1815 Battle of Waterloo were most likely sold to be used as fertilizer. Cripes.

Anyway, can’t say more. Alas! But that’s what happened when I wrote this blog the first time around, I started writing about books on this blog and then pitching more articles about books, etc etc. If I do get this assignment, I’ll post an update in a Friday Folio.

Nail polish: My Private Jet by OPI.

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Book 8 of 52: No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs by Lezlie Lowe

Last January, I visited Dry Tortugas National Park, an island 70 miles off of Key West. It was glorious — and warm and salty. Before the ferry took us back to the Keys, I stopped to use a changing room. The women’s had a line. The men’s was empty. So I did what I usually do in such situations: stepped into the men’s.

While my bathing suit top was stuck over my head, a man wanted to use the room, and he was angry he had to wait an extra 20 seconds while I finished up. “Women get everything!” he said.

I stepped out of the room, looked him in the eyes, and said “like what?”

“You can use the men’s room but I can’t use the women’s,” he said.

“Women’s always has a line. What else?”

“Uh, ladies night,” he replied.

“Okay so we sometimes, maybe get discounts on drinks. What else? Tell me what other advantages women get over men.”

He stared at me, then put on a fake smile and said, “okay I’m guess you’re right” and walked away, though he didn’t sound convinced in what he said. Just embarrassed I called him out.

I thought about this as I read No Place […]

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Book 7 of 52: The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey by Derick Lugo

Around the holidays, with COVID exacerbating already elevated levels of stress, I started reading about hiking the Appalachian Trail, a 2,198-mile foot path from Georgia to Maine. About 750 people hike the entire length every year, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, out of around 3,000 who attempt it.

I’d read two books about it already: the classic A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (twice), and Called Again by Jennifer Pharr-Davis, about an attempt to set a record in how long (or short) it takes a person to complete the whole thing. I didn’t want to revisit those books. Instead, I fell into a Reddit group about it, and found a discussion of books about regular folks who became thru-hikers.

First up: The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey by Derick Lugo.

By “regular” I mean people who aren’t top flight athletes like Pharr-Davis, or already well known writers, like Bryson. Lugo is a runner from Brooklyn who decided to give it a go in 2012, almost on a whim, despite having never hiked or camped before. The book is a spiffed up version of his trail blog/diary, where he shares his worries and qualms, his successes […]

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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 3 of 52: Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon by Kate Andersen Brower

How about some glamour, darlings? Then let’s dive into Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon by Kate Andersen Brower.

This new book is the third biography I’ve read of Taylor. Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger is a biography of Taylor and husband number five (and maybe six, depending on how you count, as they divorced and remarried then divorced again) with a focus on that relationship; and How to be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor by William J. Mann is a supremely dishy read. I enjoyed them both, but Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon is by far the most comprehensive of the three.

Brower had access to unpublished letters, but she also talked to everyone — and I mean everyone. A short list: Carol Burnett, George Hamilton (yes they dated!), Brook Shields, George Hamilton, Anthony Fauci, John Travolta, Colin Farrell (who was a close friend), all of Taylor’s children, Richard Burton’s daughter Kate and his wife Sally. Brower said that 10 years after Taylor’s death, people were more willing to talk about her. The last few chapters feel […]

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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 62 of 52: The Secret Apartment: Vet Stadium, a surreal memoir by Tom Garvey

Tom Garvey came home from a the Vietnam War with PTSD, and was trying to figure out what’s next while going to college and working for his uncle helping to manage parking at sporting events in South Philadelphia. When said uncle gave him the business to manage — and after he and his friends crashed at Veteran’s Stadium the night before the Pope’s visit, so they would be on site early to help manage parking — Garvey decided to move in.

In The Secret Apartment: Vet Stadium, a Surreal Memoir, Garvey finally tells a story that he said was only known by a small group of friends (including some professional athletes). He claims that from 1979 to 1981, he lived in an unused concession stand under the slope of section 354 at Veterans Stadium. He took full advantage of his living quarters, making friends with professional baseball and football players and coaches, going to a zillion games, roller skating around the stadium at night, and sometimes sleeping under the stars from the fabled 700 level.

Garvey started posting his memories during the pandemic, for fun and the entertainment of other people, then self-published them in this book in 2021. And it’s […]

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