Book Review and Giveaway: Spaceman by Mike Massimino

spaceman

Title: Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
Author: 
Mike Massimino
ISBN: 
9781101903544
Pages: 
336
Release Date: 
October 4, 2016
Publisher: 
Crown Archetype
Genre: 
Memoir, Space/NASA
Source: Publisher

If you follow this website regularly, then you know how much of a fan I am of space and space-related books. That’s why I was so thrilled to have the chance to read an early copy of Mike Massimino’s memoir Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe. Massimino is a celebrated astronaut from the shuttle-era, participating in two crucial missions to service the Hubble Space Telescope. If you aren’t that much into space, then you might better know Massimino from when he played himself on multiple episodes of The Big Bang Theory. Either way, if you know who he is, you probably have figured out that he’s a smart, funny, and personable guy.

That’s why Spaceman is such a great read. Massimino’s personality comes bursting through every page; you feel as if you’re sitting down with a friend, rather than reading someone’s life story. We see astronauts as these heroes, these brave men and women who do incredible things every day, and it’s easy to forget that they are human. That they have the same doubts and frustrations as any of us. That’s what I appreciated most about this book—Massimino is honest about his issues and doubts. He doesn’t pretend like he’s perfect or he always knows the answers. Instead, he gives the reader a frank look back at his life. He’s not afraid to be vulnerable or admit he made a mistake, and it makes this book that much more appealing.

There are some astronaut memoirs that appeal primarily to those with a real passion for space. And then there are some memoirs, like Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth that will appeal to any reader, and Mike Massimino’s Spaceman is one of those. It’s sharp, engaging, and insightful, and will inspire you to reflect on your own life.

Thanks to Crown Publishing, and in conjunction with my space newsletter Give Me Space (did you know I have a space newsletter? I write every week or two letting you know about the interesting thing happening in space and science news) I’m thrilled to have three gorgeous hardcover copies of Spaceman to give away to three different U.S. based readers. To enter: Fill out the form at the bottom of this page in its entirety; incomplete entries will not be counted. U.S.-based mailing addresses only, please. You have until Wednesday, October 12, at 11:59 PM ET to enter; I’ll email the winners privately.

Good luck! I hope you love this book as much as I did. To purchase Spaceman, please visit one of the links below.

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Book Review: Living with Intent – Mallika Chopra

living with intent mallika chopraTitle: Living with Intent: My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace, and Joy
Author: Mallika Chopra
ISBN: 9780804139854 (Print)
Run Time: 5 Hours, 34 Minutes
Release Date: April 7, 2015
Publisher: Random House Audio
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Self-Help
Source: Publisher

Summary

Mallika Chopra, daughter of famed wellness expert Deepak Chopra, tried to put her father’s teachings into practice every day, living a mindful life with purpose and intent. But she found herself floundering over and over again, unable to balance the daily demands from her work and her family with her principles. This memoir is her journey towards living with intent from day to day.

Review

I used to be one of those people who said smugly, “I don’t read self-help books.” The idea that I needed help from the maligned genre was laughable to me; I was doing just FINE. Then I turned 30, and a switch flipped in my head, and I realized that the notion that I don’t need help is laughable. The thought that I’ve got nothing left to learn, and there’s nothing for me to improve within myself is, quite frankly, stupid. I started branching out more in my reading, trying to figure out how I could be a better person, and that’s when I found Living with Intent.

Meditation is a thing I’ve been doing over the past year. I’ve come to rely on it more and more to calm my anxious brain, to help me deal with my stress levels, and so the idea of living with intent wasn’t new to me. My mind seems to be in constant chaos, so I liked the idea of being more mindful about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. I’m not great at it, so you can understand my immense relief when I started listening to this memoir on audio, and HEY, it turns out that the daughter of one of the most famous voices on meditation and mindfulness in the world? Also not great at living these principles.

Chopra is very easy to relate to in Living with Intent. She wants to be better, more mindful, but she has trouble actually making it happen in the face of all her responsibilities and commitments day to day. I could definitely sympathize with that, and it was interesting to see how she went about making a change. She is certainly privileged in some of the avenues she is able to take—a week-long retreat—but others are easy for anyone to put into practice. It’s not about doing exactly what Chopra did, or using her journey as a step-by-step to do list. It’s about being inspired by her journey and figuring out the lessons you can apply from hers to improve your own.

I listened to Living with Intent on audio, and it runs about 5 and a half hours unabridged. Chopra narrates it herself, and despite the fact I found her performance uneven, I really enjoyed this production. Listening to this as I was going about my day made me feel somehow more productive, that by putting it in my ears I had already taken my first step towards more mindfulness.

I don’t want to exaggerate and say that this book changed my life; it’s rare that a book has that kind of effect. But Living with Intent did make me engage in a lot of self-reflection and think not only about what I have to do, but how I do it. I like the day of starting each day with an intention, and it’s a change I’m absolutely going to make going forward.

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Book Review: There Was and There Was Not – Meline Toumani

there-was-and-there-was-notTitle: There Was and There Was Not: A Journey through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, And Beyond
Author: Meline Toumani
ISBN: 9780805097627
Pages: 304
Release Date: November 4, 2014
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Genre: Memoir
Source: Publisher

Summary

Meline Toumani is a young Armenian American woman whose cultural heritage has been defined by the genocide of her people by the Turks in 1915. And, more specifically, by the Turkish denial that the genocide ever occurred. Toumani, eager to see the Armenian people move forward, rather than centering their cultural history on the genocide, begins exploring the ramifications of the Armenian genocide that extend into the community today, as well as to look at what it means within Turkey.

Review

There Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond is a daring memoir, to be sure. I’m not Armenian, so I can only imagine what it’s like to have this ground-shaking earth-shattering event within my community that defined us, that bound us together. But I can also imagine what it’s like to be a young person within this community, who wants to move past the centering of that tragedy—not to forget, of course, but instead to stop letting it have so much power over the culture as it exists today. There are echoes of the India/Pakistan, Hindu/Muslim conflict in this (I’m not trying to compare the two, I recognize the situations are very different, but the cultural hatred is similar), so I can at least empathize with the size of the task and just how entrenched these thoughts are.

The campaign for official Turkish recognition of the genocide has consumed Armenian culture, in Toumani’s eyes. It has taken this vibrant, dynamic group of people and reduced them to a single-issue minority. It’s understandable why she takes issue with this. But the emotions,  the legacy of the genocide, are more than one person can overcome. It’s unsurprising that she will face resistance from Turks, but the anger she faces within her own community is telling. These voices have been marginalized, silenced, and they want recognition. They don’t hope for justice; all they ask is for acknowledgment. Who can blame them?

But, at the same time, how can we remember tragedy without it becoming our singular focus for the forseeable future? How can the Armenians have a future that acknowledges the genocide but doesn’t center it, that condemns the actions without condemning all Turks and fostering hatred that will persist through generations? This is Toumani’s true quest in There Was and There Was Not. She talks to many people in her memoir, but the most interesting aspect is the conflict Toumani feels within herself. For the last part of the book, she actually lives in Turkey, exploring and questioning everything she sees around her. And through these experiences she comes to understand what it really means to be an Armenian, to have this loaded history and know that this horrible genocide occurred, yet have everyone around you deny it. It’s so interesting to see her begin to understand the fundamental issues in a way she couldn’t before.

This memoir is absolutely fascinating. It might sound heavy—and there are a lot of emotions that run through it—but it’s actually not. It’s an intriguing exploration of culture and identity, of what it means to be human and to have a past. It may sound like it is zeroing in one one culture only, but the fundamental themes of There Was and There Was Not are universal. It’s a book of sorrows and tragedies, but it’s also stuffed to the brim with hope, possibility, and optimism for the future.

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Audiobook Review: When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

when-breath-becomes-airTitle: When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi
ISBN: 9781524708146
Run Time: 5 hours, 35 minutes (unabridged)
Release Date: February 16, 2016
Publisher: Random House Audio
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Source: Publisher

Summary

At the age of 36, and a resident in neurosurgery, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. With no real hope of recovery, Kalanithi was forced to meditate on the process of dying, the nature of death, and the fates of those he would leave behind.

Review

If When Breath Becomes Air sounds depressing, well, that’s because it is. It’s the story of a man who is much too young to die, but who is dying nonetheless. It’s thoughtful, profound, moving, and uplifting in the strangest of ways. It’s part memoir, part meditation, and part philosophy on what it means to die, and to die young. How to die, and what you leave behind.

It works very well, in fact, hand-in-hand with another book on death by another South Asian doctor: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. Side by side, these two books are a deep look at what it means to die, and why we should think about it before we’re imminently faced with it. It’s one of the most important things we will ever do, to die, and how we do it matters. It’s depressing to think about, sure, but it’s also one only things we can be sure about in life. Why wouldn’t we meditate on it?

I realize that this isn’t a traditional review, and that’s because it’s so hard to review When Breath Becomes Air. It’s a slip of a book in print, and just 5 1/2 hours unabridged on audio. Sunil Malhotra brings Paul to life for the reader; when it comes to a memoir, you know the narrator is successful if he becomes one with the author, the voice of the author, in your head, and Malhotra did just that. When I think of Paul now, which is more often than you’d think given the weeks that have separated me finishing the book and this review, it’s Malhotra’s voice I hear in my head.

Sometimes, you need to be moved utterly and completely, and When Breath Becomes Air is perfect to turn to in those moments. It’s short, but packs a profound punch that will leave you utterly breathless. The depth of this memoir, the layers to be peeled away, will leave it lingering in your thoughts long after you’ve finished listening or turned the last pages. I thought it worked incredibly well in audio form, as it allows you one step closer into Paul’s world. You experience his joys, frustrations, and sorrows right alongside him, and in the end, you weep at his bedside, unable to hold yourself together any longer.

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Book Review: Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes

Title: Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person Author: Shonda Rhimes ISBN: 9781476777092 Pages: 336 Release Date: November 10, 2015 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir Source: Publisher Summary In this untraditional memoir, Shonda Rhimes discusses her amazing success, shattering the glass ceiling for […]

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Book Review: The Other Wes Moore – Wes Moore

Title: The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates Author: Wes Moore ISBN: 9780385528191 Hours: 6 Hours, 12 minutes / Pages: 256 Release Date: Publisher: Audio: Random House Audio / Print: Spiegel & Grau Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir Source: Personal Copy Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: Wes Moore is a White House fellow and a Rhodes scholar […]

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Book Review: How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less – Sarah Glidden

how to understand israel cover

Title: How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less Author: Sarah Glidden ISBN: 9781401222345 Pages: 208 Release Date: August 30, 2011 Publisher: Vertigo Genre: Nonfiction, Comics, Graphic Memoir, Trave; Source: Library Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: Sarah Glidden, a nonreligious Jewish young woman, decided to take a Birthright Israel trip, braced for the Zionist […]

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Book Review: Love in a Headscarf – Shelina Janmohamed

Title: Love in a Headscarf Author: Shelina Janmohamed ISBN:  9780807000809 Pages: 272 Release Date: October 12, 2010 Publisher: Beacon Press Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Cultural Source: Personal Copy Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: Shelina Janmohamed was a smart, Oxford-educated young Muslim woman who decided to abide by her parents’ and community’s traditions when it came […]

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