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Fall books guide

10/21/2015

Yet another summer has come and gone, and we find ourselves in the midst of fall, waiting for winter to wrap its chilly arms around us.

Many of us think of summer as a time to relax, put our feet up and finally get around to reading that stack of books we received for Christmas last year. But then something happens: We get caught up in the summer fun, taking camping trips and spending every available minute outside in the sunshine.

And the stack of books remains.

As we return to our normal routines, maybe we can carve out a bit more time for reading. With the books in this year’s guide, we think you’ll certainly want to. From motivational memoirs to best-selling fiction to novels-turned-blockbusters, our staff has picked out some great material for you this fall.

‘The Art of the Start’
By Guy Kawasaki
226 pp., $19.26art of the start

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A fellow entrepreneur told me that I should check out the book “The Art of the Start.” In doing so, I learned that this 2004 guide for “anyone starting anything” had been updated in 2015 with the masterfully titled “The Art of the Start 2.0.” I had zero luck finding this book locally, but I was able to find the original. And since I hadn’t read that one, I thought it would be best to go in order.

Let’s start with the author, Guy Kawasaki. The former adviser to Motorola and the Apple evangelist has written more than a dozen books. Although his experience is vast, his tone is down to earth and his style is easily comprehendible. He is a bit a sarcastic and snappy, and that makes it a fun read.

Unfortunately, the content of the book isn’t what it appears to be.  If you are a tech entrepreneur, then you will find this interesting and motivating — a bit dreamy, perhaps, but it will at least fit your niche. If you are a self-funded business operator or looking for a simple bank loan, the seemingly endless copy on how to seek angel investors or venture capital will be a snoozer.  

Meanwhile, “The Art of the Start” is still worth a read because it forces every business owner who wants to expand, or every person who has a business idea, to answer the hard questions.

The book is written in a take-no-prisoners style. Those who have a dream of starting a tech company that never makes money and selling it for billions will love this book. The basic principles can also be applied to the vast majority of businesses that turn profits, the brick-and-mortar stores that continue to be the heart and soul of America. This book is a sensible place to start.
– Shane Goodman

‘The Martian’
By Andy Weir
384 pp., $14.88the martian

With all the buzz accumulating around the new movie starring Matt Damon, I figured this would be an appropriate book to review. I read “The Martian” earlier in the year and became hooked almost instantly. It reads like any other last-man-on-earth/stranded-on-a-desert-island (or, in this case, Mars) novel.

However, Weir manages to throw not-so-pseudo-science into the mix. It gets technical — which actually turns out to be enjoyable. Weir manages to channel Bill Nye and teach us a few things while entertaining us.

The protagonist, Mark Watney, is easily the most enjoyable and relatable character in the book — as he should be. His self-deprecating humor and snarky anecdotes seem to bring a bit of light-heartedness and sense of hope to the otherwise dire and seemingly hopeless situation he’s found himself in.

One gripe I have about this story was the consistency of the secondary characters. Weir managed to give readers insight on what these characters were thinking and going through while their beloved hero was stranded millions of miles away. But it was a bit off-kilter. Understandably, most of the author’s character development efforts went toward the protagonist. And, yes, parts of the story were necessary to shift between perspectives. But other times, the secondary characters were unnecessary and two-dimensional. Their cause was just and admirable, and it was nice to know that Watney wasn’t the only person trying to get himself back home, but a little more character development thrown toward the secondary characters would have been a nice breath of fresh air (Ha! Get it?).

Weir manages to take a tried-and-true plot device and breathe a bit of life into it. It makes science fun and manages to instill a bit of sympathy for the protagonist as he’s stranded so far from home. The truth is, you can take all of these characters and throw them into similar situations and come up with a similar story. The fact that this is set in space as opposed to an abandoned mineshaft or on a desert island gives insight on what our next biggest fear is: the unknown. Space is the final frontier, and with it comes uncertainty and unparalleled possibilities.
– Tyler Nash

‘Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America’
By John Waters
317 pp., $17.54carsick

Yep, that John Waters. The man with the pencil-thin mustache and a career of writing and directing campy cult movies like “Pink Flamingos” and “Hairspray.” Searching for “kicks,” at 66 years of age in 2012, Waters chose to travel from Baltimore to San Francisco — not by private jet but by sticking out his thumb to hitch rides with strangers. And then he wrote a book about it.

The book deal came first, by the way, and only a third of “Carsick” is about the nine days Waters spent riding in 21 vehicles with a farmer, a truck driver, housewives, musicians, elected officials and other people (only some of whom recognized Waters).

The first two parts of this book are fiction and were written before Waters began his journey. Titled “The Best That Could Happen” and “The Worst That Could Happen,” these novellas suggest Waters (who had hitchhiked short distances many times before) was trying to balance his hopes and fears about this long trip.

In part three, “The Real Thing,” Waters wrote “reality is never as exciting as fiction.” I disagree, finding his descriptions of the drives and the drivers to be the best part of this book. Here is a warm love-letter to travel, relationships and kindness from the man often referred to as the “King of Trash.” While I can’t get on board with hitchhiking, I do recommend taking this ride with John Waters.
– Kathy Ericson

‘Yes Please’
By Amy Poehler
352 pp., $18.47yes please

For anyone who loves Amy Poehler — or strong, opinionated, successful and smart women in general — “Yes Please” is the hilarious and insightful book you need in your life. Poehler’s stories as a young woman trying to make it as a comedian are both funny and poignant, and she easily shows how her experiences shaped her into the person she is today.

Poehler’s voice is real and vulnerable in “Yes Please,” especially as she talks about her relationship with her two sons and her divorce from Will Arnett. “Yes Please” is a memoir, but Poehler sprinkles useful advice throughout its pages, too.

It’s obvious that Poehler has worked hard to get to the point she’s at today, being one of the funniest female comedians and writers in TV. From dead-end jobs and traveling improv troupes to “Saturday Night Live” and her own long-running television series, it seems like there’s nothing she can’t — or won’t — do.

“Yes Please” is as inspiring as it is informative. If this doesn’t make you want to play the leading role in your own life, nothing will.
– Eleni Upah

‘How Iowa Conquered the World: The Story of a Small Farm State’s Journey to Global Dominance’
By Michael Rank
135 pp., $9.99iowa conquered

“Oh yeah. The place with the Butter Cow.” Or “that’s where they grow all the potatoes?” Or “Des Moines. That’s in Illinois, right?”  

Undoubtedly, you’ve received similar responses when you were out of town and told someone where you live. Perhaps you’ve countered with “but… there are cool things to do in Iowa.” Or made comments about Iowa’s relatively low cost of living, crime rate, etc. If you’ve run out of arguments as to why Iowa is a good place to live, open this book.

Through five chapters, Rand (a native Iowan) discusses five areas in which Iowa made real and significant differences — not just to Iowa, the Midwest or this country, but to the whole world. From creating the current global university system (and Silicon Valley as a by-product) to multiculturalism, agricultural improvements, standardizing how we speak (and becoming the accent of choice for people around the country and around the world) and controlling political destiny, Rand explains how Iowans change the world.

Rand writes a thoroughly researched book with plenty of detail, but this is not a stuffy read. If you are not already proud to be an Iowan (whether by birth or as a transplant), this book will make you proud to live in Iowa. Perhaps you should take this book with you on your next out-of-state trip… just in case you meet someone who doesn’t know Iowa.
– Karen Ericson

‘Carlin Family Companion’
By Kelly Carlin
322 pp., $26.99carlin home companion

Even though this book is hyped as “Growing Up with George,” it is basically about Kelly Carlin’s dysfunctional life and hardly mentions George Carlin after the first 84 pages. He seems to be “on the road” during most of the book’s timeframe. The book does briefly mention the TV shows he wrote for, HBO specials and tours, but does little more than that.

The author begins by expressing how her parents’ addictions affected her young life and goes right into her abuse of marijuana and cocaine at the age of 12. She continues her life story through addiction, low self-esteem, panic attacks and her parents’ perpetual enabling. She describes her abusive, seven-year first marriage, graduating from college at age 30, moving back in with Mom and Dad, and meeting her second husband.

If you want to hear Kelly’s story, you may enjoy this book. It appears there were no lessons learned by Kelly after witnessing her parents’ shortcomings. Both did eventually overcome their addictions.

Moral of the story: Dysfunctional parents raise dysfunctional children.
– Molly A. Catron
            

‘Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear’
By Elizabeth Gilbert
273 pp., $13.72big magic

I almost tossed this book aside after reading the words “Ideas (have no material body, but they do) have consciousness, and they most certainly have will… (ideas) spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners” to be made manifest. Instead, my enjoyment of her mega-hit memoir “Eat Pray Love” kept me reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book.

“Big Magic” is about living a bigger and more creative life, and once Gilbert and I got past her ideas about ideas, many usable (though not ground-breaking) strategies followed. Strategies like trusting your own instincts, ignoring both negative and positive feedback, and learning to relax (because there’s no such thing as an emergency in creating art). Strategies that could apply not only to those in “the arts,” but also to scientists, teachers, retailers and, well, everyone else who may need inspiration and help with problem-solving.

Keep reading past the “woo woo” stuff (which, Gilbert explains, dates back to the era of Greeks and Romans), and you will be rewarded with more than a glimpse into the creative process of this New York Times best-selling author. Gilbert is generous in sharing what’s worked for her as well as blunt advice and cheerful encouragement that readers can use to forge their own creative path in life. She writes in an easy, conversational style, and you might finish this book feeling like you just had a helpful chat with a friend who’s a bit further along on the path you want to take. I’d recommend this book for aspiring/struggling artists and anyone feeling stuck about how to live a more creative life.
– Kathy Ericson

‘Luckiest Girl Alive’
By Jessica Knoll
352 pp., $15luckiests girl alive

“Luckiest Girl Alive” is a strange book. Its main character, Ani FaNelli, is not exactly likeable, yet you can’t help but empathize with her throughout several parts of the story. Its written with the type of honesty that most people are afraid to share, which might be why Reese Witherspoon purchased the movie rights to it almost immediately after it came out.

The story flips back and forth between the present — when Ani is 28, a successful journalist at a popular women’s magazine and engaged to the well-to-do Luke Harrison — and the past, when she’s 14-year-old TifAni and has just been kicked out of her Catholic school for smoking weed.

As an adult, Ani is the perfect manipulator. She has spent years perfecting the art of reading people and getting what she wants from them. She thrives on the impressed reactions she gets after telling someone where she works or showing off the four-carat engagement ring from her old-money fiancé. To her, success means working at a place whose name everyone has heard and marrying into a family whose money dates back generations.  

We know something big has tortured Ani into the person she is today, but we have no idea what that is until about two-thirds into the book. Her story begins at the Bradley School, where she will do anything to be accepted into the popular circle. The twisted hierarchy of her high school is simultaneously normal and shocking, as bullying is taken to a new level and her hunger to fit in builds with each hit against her.

Knoll has created a character with so much depth, hitting a nerve in anyone who has ever looked at someone and judged them, anyone who has tried anything to be liked, anyone who has ever dared to think “the unthinkable.”

“Luckiest Girl Alive” is a mystery not only in the events that unfold, but also how it continually begs the question “Why would she/he/they do that?”
– Eleni Upah

‘Sycamore Row’
By John Grisham
447 pp., $15Sycamore Row

As with his other novels, John Grisham paints the scene, people and situations with a gripping reality of words. This novel opens with a rural Mississippi millionaire, Seth Hubbard, ending his own life, and leaving behind a bewildering request: that 90 percent of his estate go to a black housekeeper he barely knows.

Grisham eases through the Hubbard family tree and reveals children who were never close to their very private father — but the greed sends them on a race to collect what they believe to be rightfully theirs. Hubbard leaves detailed instructions following his death. The day after he is found, the crude, handwritten will arrives in the mail addressed to a young trial lawyer, Jake Brigance. A note is included, instructing Brigance to uphold this will at all costs and be sure the previous version, which included his family, is no longer valid.

The town is on edge to find out why a white millionaire would leave more than $20 million to a black housekeeper. Grisham touches on the topics of racism, greed, family secrets and coming to terms with what is right, no matter your race or beliefs. Grisham lands the reader at the same conclusion as the jury when a surprise witness reveals the family secret. “Sycamore Row” is full of well-written characters, a seemingly picturesque town and surprising turns as others join the search for the truth.
– Celeste Jones

‘Reckless: My Life as a Pretender’
By Chrissie Hynde
312 pp., $14.82reckless

“Such a drag to want something sometime. One thing leads to another, I know… Oh, but it’s hard to live by the rules. I never could and still never do.”

Chrissie Hynde’s own words (lyrics to the 1980 song “Talk of the Town” for her group, the Pretenders) could be used as an overview of both her life and her autobiography. Don’t let this brief summation deter you from reading this aptly titled memoir, though. To miss this book would be to miss more than a “small-town girl makes it big” story.

Read this book to find out what Hynde wanted and what her desires led to. Read it to learn the rules Hynde broke (and still maybe does). Read it to find out how this Akron, Ohio, native (born in 1951) took chances and made decisions that led her to become, eventually, an internationally successful and lauded musician.

Hynde’s path to stardom was not without struggle and notable events. Hynde was a student, briefly, at Kent State University during turbulent times at that university (and our nation). She had encounters with very dangerous and violent men. She also had run-ins with rock stars — both before and after her own rise to fame. And she did drugs — plenty and often.

Through some lean years, dead-end jobs, questionable choices and bumps in the road, Hynde’s determination to make music was unceasing and would lead to a life truly of her own choosing and of her own making. Says Hynde in the prologue: “I regret half of this story, and the other half is the sound you heard.”

Read this book to find out what she is talking (and singing) about.
– Karen Ericson

‘Duffy’s Iowa Caucus Cartoons: Watch ‘Em Run’
By Brian Duffy
172 pp., $21duffy

I have never met anyone like Brian Duffy. Ever. He is an incredible talent as a cartoonist and an artist — but that is only half of what makes him amazing. Duffy also has an incredible ability to scour news and develop ideas as the center of his cartoons. That skill is what separates him from others who only aspire to be editorial cartoonists.

With nearly three decades of his work published in The Des Moines Register and the past decade in this newspaper and many others across the nation, Duffy has compiled an incredible record of Iowa and national politics.

With help from the University of Iowa Press and William Fredericks, Duffy’s works have been preserved in a remarkably entertaining and well-written book of his Iowa Caucus cartoons. Former Register political columnist David Yepsen was the perfect choice to write the foreword, as his insight and connection with Duffy resonates with readers and provides the necessary balance that make this book work.

Yes, it’s an easy read, and it should be, as Duffy’s best cartoons are his simplest ones. But, most importantly, “Watch ‘Em Run” is an essential piece of Iowa’s history, as is Brian Duffy.
– Shane Goodman CV

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