Book of the Month: Holidays on Ice

There’s a lot to love about this time of year. Holidays, friends, family, hopefully some time off of work. But there’s a lot to hate. Stress, bad weather.

That’s why we picked Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris as our Book of the Month. Sedaris’s acerbic wit cuts through each essay, while still keeping the underlying sweetness of the season in tact.

Just listen to this clip from the essays “SantaLand Diaries”, a classic in which Sedaris recalls a former job as an elf.

Hooked yet? You’re in luck. We’ve marked down Holidays on Ice 25% all month long.

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Ann Patchett’s Twisting, Turning Life and Books

Ann Patchett’s books twist and turn, snaking through crises and into catharsis. Her own life is perhaps not as dramatic, but still full of adventure. Maybe not the kind that involves hostage situations or the Amazon rain forest, but of a literary variety.

And it’s part of why I like her so much. She’s honed her skill, sentence after sentence, writing for magazines including Seventeen, Gourmet, and the New York Times, while living in her hometown of Nashville. When the last independent bookstore in Nashville closed, she and her friend Karen Hayes opened Parnassus Books. As she says, she didn’t want to live in a city without a bookstore. Who can blame her?

She has written many books, all with something special to offer. State of Wonder is mysterious and organic. It’s why it’s our Book of the Month. Bel Canto won both the PEN/Faulkner prize and Orange Prize for Fiction, and for good reason. But if you want to get to know more about Ann and her life, check out This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, her book of essays.


Bel Canto

Themes of beauty, love, and duress intermingle during a hostage crisis at a South American party in Bel Canto. The books tension and characters grab you, turning everything you thought you had figured out upside down.

State of Wonder

Patchett returns to South America in State of Wonder, as Dr. Mirina Singh tracks down her old mentor in the rain forest. Its setting oozes beauty and death; its characters fierce and fragile.


This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

New and old essays are together for the first time in This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. From willing herself over a six-foot wall to opening a bookstore, to working on relationships to perfecting her craft, Patchett examines her remarkable life.



An accident and a snowstorm disrupt lives in Run. Spanning only 24 hours, this is an emotional roller coaster that will leave you wanting more.


The Magician’s Assistant

A magician’s widow tracks down secrets about her late husband’s family, taking her on a cross-country odyssey. The Magician’s Assistant is a book of beautiful sentences and harrowing loss.


The Patron Saint of Liars

Rose travels to St. Elizabeth’s, with the intention of giving up her baby once it is born. Moving and complicated, The Patron Saint of Liars is more than it first appears and unforgettable once completed.

State of Wonder is our book of the month! Get it today and let us know what you think.

Atul Gawande: The Thoughtful Doctor

Atul Gawande has been many things: Rhodes scholar, husband, father, journalist, surgeon, political advisor, and author. His writings show that he is as thoughtful as he is meticulous.

After graduating from Stanford, Gawande studied philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford for one year as a Rhodes scholar. He then began medical school at Harvard, but took a brief detour to advise President Bill Clinton during his 1992 campaign. After finishing medical school, he wrote for Slate and The New Yorker during his residency.

Gawande brings his years of experience to each of his books. His writing breaks down complex issues in a way that is easy to digest without dumbing them down or glossing over certain facts or realities.

Whether you are an insider in the medical community or an outsider looking in, you will leave Atul Gawande’s books having learned something, having been inspired, and having had a lot to think over.


Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

Drawing from his years of medical experience, Gawande makes the case for checklists, and the order they create out of chaos, in Checklist Manifesto. Though he primarily discusses their use in medical settings, anyone who needs a little more organization in their lives can benefit from this one.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Our September Book of the Month and Gawande’s most important book to date. Being Mortal examines the ways in which modern medicine can help or hinder us at the end of our lives. Beautifully written with both compassion and logic, this is a must.


Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

With the precision of a surgeon wielding a scalpel, Gawande’s essays in Better take readings around the world in bizarre and day-to-day situations that surgeons must face. Stumbling over obstacles both ethical and practical, these surgeons must make decisions that will save lives.


Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science

Complications collects Gawande’s New Yorker articles written during his residency. Carefully crafted, these essays critically examine the pressures and expertise required in the field of medicine, and in particular, surgery.

Being Mortal is our September Book of the Month!

What I Know for Sure

For decades, people of all backgrounds have turned to Oprah for inspiration, comfort, and advice. She has reigned supreme in all forms of media, effortlessly classic amidst changing times. Here, Oprah has gathered her favorite entries from her “What I Know for Sure” column of O, The Oprah Magazine. The essays are divided into themes ranging from joy to awe, clarity to power, and much, much more.

AudioFile magazine says, “Oprah Winfrey’s distinctive voice adds sincerity and intimacy to her accounts of ‘ah-ha’ moments in her personal and professional lives. . . . Her narration adds authenticity to the underlying teachings on the importance of spirit and love.”

What I Know for Sure2

What I Know for Sure

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David Sedaris: Comedy Before All Else

Not all authors can pull off reading their own work for  audiobook editions.

Many publishers hire professionals to fill in because the author can’t do characters’ voices justice, come off rigid, or even lack the confidence to voice their own work. For example, in What If?, our current Book of the Month read, actor and geek-culture figurehead Wil Wheaton sits in for author Randall Munroe.

But David Sedaris is the master of reading his own work, what every author or voice actor should aspire to be. Maybe it’s from his years of radio experience as a guest on This American Life and other NPR shows, or the many, many book readings he’s done. Whatever it is, he gets it right. This is especially important because without the right narrator, the jokes in a satirical or humorous book fall flat.

Sedaris’s humor is deeply personal. He has this ability to turn the tables on himself, to make the most mundane aspect of his life into a greater story about the ridiculousness of his situation, has scored him legian fans over the years. In When You Are Engulfed in Flames, Sedaris sets his essays in Paris and an airplane ride between New York and Denver. In Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, backdrops include Australia, London, and Costco. And always, everywhere, his childhood home of North Carolina. You can really hear him dryly poking fun of himself and the world around him as he narrates.

But besides making the exotic mundane and the mundane exotic, Sedaris is a master at self-deprecation. One of my favorite stories of his comes from Dress Your Family in Denim and Corduroy. In it, he recounts a kooky family who lived next door to him as a kid. Out of town for Halloween, the father of the family brought the kids trick-or-treating on November 1st. Though the Sedaris family had given out all of their candy the night before, David’s mother insisted that David and his sisters delve into their own, hard-earned candy and share with the neighbors. In a fit of agony, Sedaris stuffs as many candy bars in his mouth before his mother comes and makes him give some away to the neighbors.

I love this story because of the imagery of young Sedaris, with a mouth stuffed full of chocolate, as his mother enters his room, intent on taking what he feels is rightfully his. He writes:

… as she closed the door behind her and moved toward my bed, I began breaking the wax lips and candy necklaces pulled from pile no. 2. These were the second-best things I had received, and while it hurt to destroy them, it would have hurt even more to give them away.”

While the story is hilarious, Sedaris’s willingness to share it is also incredible. He paints himself in the most atrocious light, a gift to his audience. The whole time he tells it, it sounds confessional, like he’s telling you—personally—this embarrassing childhood anecdote.

This is a pattern with Sedaris. In Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, he explains how he fell into a kind of gross fascination at a taxidermy shop. He went in, hoping against hope to find a stuffed owl and began talking with the store’s proprietor. Believing Sedaris to be a very discerning man of the best taxidermic taste, the proprietor brings out a Pygmy human skeleton from the 19th century, the amputated arm of a sailor his grandfather had met, and the 400-year-old head of a Peruvian teenager. Again, Sedaris is upfront with the amount of his unease, which is only slight, and only because he feels like some modicum of discomfort must be appropriate. He brazenly puts it,

That taxidermist knew me for less time than it took me to wipe my feet on his mat, and, with no effort whatsoever, he looked into my soul and recognized me for the person that I am: the type of person who’d actually love a pygmy …”

I can’t think of anyone, anywhere, other than Sedaris who would have the guts to write this essay, nor the comedic skills to write it so well and the actor’s timing necessary to narrate it.

One of Sedaris’s longest essays, and another that has stayed with me in the years since I first heard it, is “The Smoking Section” from When You Are Engulfed in Flames. In it, Sedaris details his love of smoking cigarettes and his attempt to quit while living for a few months in Tokyo. Overall, When Your Are Engulfed in Flames is Sedaris’s most macabre collection, and book cover echoes that, showing a skeleton smoking a cigarette, a nod to “The Smoking Section” as well as another of the book’s essays. The book’s title also comes from “The Smoking Section,” in a strange phrase Sedaris encountered in Japanese hotel, giving tips for various dangerous situations, including “when you are engulfed in flames.”

Watching David Sedaris perform his work live is a true joy. Sedaris, never quite satisfied with his work, even his long-published essays, will read with a pen in hand, making microedits as he goes. His enthusiasm for his work is apparent from his first words. If you ever have the chance to see him read, don’t turn it down. But until then, fill the void with his awesome audiobooks.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to the clip below, where Sedaris explains his massive collection of owls.

Find David Sedaris’s contributions to This American Life.

What’s your favorite Sedaris story? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to check out our David Sedaris author page on

Review: Bad Feminist

Roxane Gay’s favorite color is pink. She blasts hip hop in her car. She watches a great deal of Lifetime movies. She likes men and sex. A lot. She is also a feminist.

If one were to hold her up to the golden standard of feminism, she might not measure up. But she’s not trying to measure herself against any sort of label. She’s just trying to be herself.

Throughout this book of essays, read by Bahni Turpin, who punctuates each joke at just the right point, Gay slides easily from pop culture to politics to personal reflections. Sometimes she does all three in a single essay. She uses cultural phenomena as a springboard to talk about larger contemporary issues. In one essay she delves into the movie Bridesmaids. While admitting that she likes the movie, she hardly found it the revolution it was purported to be, because while combatting the stereotype that “women aren’t funny” it promotes many heteronormative and sizist stereotypes.

In “What We Hunger For” she uses the acclaimed Hunger Games books, which she devoured, to talk about the need for strong female role models. And she uses to this need to talk about her own experience with sexual assault as a teenager. In the most personal, most intense passage of the book, Gay opens a vein and bleeds for us, recalling the emotional details, her devotion to her attacker before the assault, and the hurls of “slut” she heard at school after. It is in such personal moments that Gay connects best with her audience, when her points are driven home better than any academic arguments ever could (though her PhD in rhetoric is apparent in each essay, if not sentence). Seeing her—bared, scarred, and messy—is to understand and accept her as human.

Gay doesn’t lay out any sort of thesis or offer any solutions in many of her essays, including in “What We Hunger For”. Rather she discusses things that mean a great deal to her and leave us to do with them what we will.

Gay gushes over Sweet Valley High, and rails against Daniel Tosh, the a comedian known for rape jokes. It is this sort of juxtaposition that leads Gay to describe herself as a bad feminist. That she can find solace in elements of pop culture while simultaneously criticizing others, or even the same elements, is disconcerting to her, and may also be for readers and critics.


But by the end of Bad Feminist, I didn’t think that Gay is, in fact, a bad feminist. I think she’s a very good feminist. To say otherwise is to either give into a stereotype of feminism that any thinking person would reject, or else to carve in stone the perfection of feminism that no earthly being could possibly aspire to.

Many of the essays in Bad Feminist concern race as well as gender. Once again she uses pop culture to talk about cultural trends, as she critiques Tyler Perry movies, and wishes for more movies like Love and Basketball, though it is no great cinematic feat. In fact, a great cinematic feat doesn’t always do it for her, especially when so many such films featuring black stories in the past several years revolve around slavery (12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained) or servitude (The Help). She wishes to see more dynamic movies concerning black people, rather than in roles of subjugation.

Beyond Hollywood, she considers the treatment of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Trayvon Martin in the press, the former whose light skin and tussled hair landed him on the cover of Rolling Stone, and the latter who is routinely called a thug. She also talks about the erroneous statistics that fly around, such as black men are more likely to end up in jail than go to college (there are about 600,000 more black men in college than in jail), and just how disheartening it is that such myths are so pervasive.

Some have criticized Bad Feminist for devoting so many essays to race. This is ironic, because it is exactly this sort of white-washed feminism that Gay, a black woman whose parents were born in Haiti, finds so distasteful. So much of feminism is devoted to helping white, middle-class, well-educated women, but there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all feminism. I believe that anyone of any racial or religious background can enjoy Bad Feminist, just as I believe that not only women will take interest in this book. Anyone, men and women, gay and straight, religious and not, black, Asian, Latino, Native American, and white, can find true pleasure in Gay’s wit, her critical analysis, her personal stories, and the podcast-like nature of listening to essays in an audiobook format.

Gay never asks us to agree with everything she writes. She is, after all, only trying to be herself.

Listen to a clip about Roxane Gay’s dissecting the movie Bridesmaids.

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