Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday Five: Favorite NYC Set Books (Non-Fiction/Memoir)

As I’ve mentioned before, I really enjoy reading books set in New York because it is a place that fascinates me and I know I’ll never live there myself.  The logistics of life there can be very different from what I know, living here in the Midwest.  Since reading is the closest I’ll get to knowing what it’s actually like, I’ve read quite a few books.  Also, as you may know, if you’ve ever watched the New Years Eve festivities in Times Square with me, I love shouting “We were there!” at the tv any chance I get and anything filmed in New York typically give me the most chances to do this.  It’s the same for books.  I love it when Central Park or Times Square are mentioned, even better when it’s a specific spot in Central Park that I know or my favorite red stairs in Times Square.  Even though I am almost always reading alone, I still mentally shout “ we were there!”.

I’ve previously covered my favorite New York set contemporary fiction and today it’s going to be memoirs and self-improvement type books.  Non-fiction.  You might think that self-improvement books wouldn’t really matter where they are set but when they are about the nitty gritty of life, as I said above, how it’s done in New York can be very different than what I am familiar with.

1) Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin
I’ve read this more than once and keep coming back to it because it’s been so helpful in showing me ways to easily improve my day to day life.  Gretchen Rubin in a pretty well-known author (and podcaster, as I mentioned hers as one of my favorites here) whose best known books are The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and Better than Before.  She says many times in her podcast that she is fascinated by human condition and how we function, an interest I share although maybe not to the same extent.  In Happier at Home, she takes what she learned in The Happiness Project and applies to be being happier where she is most – at home with her family.  Who doesn’t want a happier home?  Of course, she tackles uncluttering, one of my favorite topics, but also many more like……

New York is barely a side character here but it’s influence does pop up from time to time, like when she wants to tackle her fear of driving which is going to be much different for someone living in Brooklyn than it is for me living in a city of ~250,000!  (I would be scared to drive in New York too!).  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and try to read it at the start of each year, to get the year off on a good foot.

2) Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
I read this around the time it was made into a movie with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep.  It is about a woman named Julie (Amy Adams in the movie) who decides she’s going to cook through Julia Child’s (Meryl Streep in the movie) famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, making every single recipe, over the course of one year.  There are easier ones and harder ones.  At times this sounded like a very doable projects…then she started talking about cow tongue and using heavy duty tools to get at bone cartilage.  No thank you.  Julie is going through her own struggles, having recently lost her job, moving apartments, while she takes on this large project and wants to give up at times (who doesn’t think that about pretty  much any project at some point??) but keeps going, finishing the entire cookbook in one year.  I prefer making pretty easy meals, as might be obvious here, and so am especially fascinated by anyone who is going above and beyond that, especially with this sort of goal.

Julie lives in New York and since it’s a memoir she talks about making all these things in her tiny kitchen, having to chase down odd ingredients, and just in general what some of the New York life is like.  This is another one I’ve read more than once and have enjoyed each time.

3) My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock
I previously mentioned this book back here but it’s worth mentioning again.  Noelle Hancock recently lost her job and has some free time on her hands.  She realizes she lives a pretty anxious life, scared of a lot of things.  She decides to take Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote “Do one thing every day that scares you” quite literally and do just that.  She does one thing a day, for an entire year, that scares her.  A few are bigger things like swim with sharks (nope) or climb Mount Kilimanjaro (nope).  Some are medium like taking a trapezee class (actually sound really fascinating after reading about it!) and skydiving (done it).  Others are small like streaking down her apartment hallway when nothing else came up that day.   She writes about overcoming various fears while also studying the science and psychology behind various ones (there’s a reason most of us are at least reasonably scared of sharks).  I’m not the bravest person (but skydiving twice has to count for something) and so I found all of the facts especially interesting.  I don’t think I’m in a position to hike a mountain anytime soon but there are probably plenty of little things I could do to be less fearful in my regular life.

And, of course, this is set in New York.  She goes to many different places to complete her adventures (you aren’t scaling a mountain in New York City) but many of the smaller ones do take place at home like the trapeze class which overlooked the skyline (can I take that there?).  And of course, any story, fiction or not, that shows how people actually live in New York is interesting to this tourist.

4) Paris, My Sweet: My Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) by Amy Thomas
I know, this book has Paris in the title and I put it on a list of New York books.  I am not crazy.  Amy Thomas gets a job opportunity where she leaves New York to temporarily, at least at the time, live in Paris, the other city that completely fascinates me.  But, being a New Yorker, she makes trips home.  She is specifically comparing sweets in New York and Paris, which, is there a better way to immerse yourself in a city??  She tries Parisian macrons and other French specialties and compares them to her favorite treats back home in New York.  She gives many wonderful possibilities for delicious baked goods and treats in both cities, something I found pretty helpful when planning our last trip.  Maybe we will slowly work through the New York list on each trip?  That sounds like a pretty good idea to me!

It takes two of my favorite cities I’ve been, takes the best part of them (the treats), all while trying to live some place completely new (Paris).   Basically my sweet spot.

5) Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
Jim Gaffigan is hilarious and he’s from Indiana.  That gets him some bonus points pretty quick.  Matt and I recently saw him when he came to town and it was the hardest I laughed in a long time.  Pretty much constantly for the ~90 minutes he was on stage.  I think we’ve seen all his stand-up on Netflix and I’ve read both of his books.  Having seen all his stand-up specials meant there was a decent amount of repeats between those and this book but it was still very enjoyable, the chapter about life with toddlers almost had me in tears.  I just got a free audio book of this for Matt to listen to (since getting him to read a book is almost a lost cause) and am hoping he enjoys it too.

NYC connection: Jim Gaffigan lives in New York with his wife and 5 children, at least at one point, in a 2 bedroom apartment.  I grew up in a family of 6 kids and I cannot imagine if all 6 of us had to share a room.  It's very interesting how they make it work.  Also, maybe helps convince me that Indiana is a better place to live...

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