11. Brainiac by Ken Jennings
If you're a fan of Jeopardy! - and maybe even if you aren't - you know who Ken Jennings is. He won 74 straight games in 2004, becoming the biggest winner in the history of the show.
Brainiac isn't just a memoir of Jennings' historical rise to fame. He includes much of the history of trivia (at times getting a little too trivial and long-winded about it), looks at the social world of trivia, and peppers the chapters with questions. (You'll find the answers neatly stated at the end of each chapter.)
While I liked learning some of the history of trivia and finding out about the various degrees of trivia competitions across the U.S., I was more interested in Jennings' preparation for the show and his experience on it. I never imagined the security details in place to prevent another quiz show scandal like the ones in the '50's. It was also interesting to read his take on the way he was treated backstage by his competitors.
Jennings' quirky sense of humor is present throughout the book, and I often found myself chuckling or downright laughing at his jokes and snide comments. He's a guy I'd like to have a conversation with!
This is a must-read for trivia-minded people.
12. With Love and Laughter, John Ritter by Amy Yasbeck
I don't remember which night Eight Simple Rules... came on, but we always watched it. I do remember feeling shocked when I heard that John Ritter had died. And I remember feeling sad when Eight Simple Rules... wrote in his death, then ended. He had always seemed like a fun, happy guy.
Reading about Ritter's life, through the eyes of his widow Amy Yasbeck, confirmed my ideas about him. He grew up loving making people laugh - and he had quite the knack for physical comedy, as was evidenced (though a bit much...) on Three's Company. Two things made a big impression on me. First, because of his love for his family and his desire for them to know that love, he put them first. Sure, there were instances when he did take a little time out from family outings to sign an autograph or pose for a quick photo, but his kids always knew he put them first. Second, regardless of his huge success, he stayed humble. He loved his fans and was always wanting to make people laugh. His ego never took over.
Though I didn't recognize Yasbeck's name, once I read her story, interwoven with Ritter's, I realized I had seen her act in many things. Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights is probably where I knew her best, though she did star opposite Ritter in Problem Child and Problem Child 2, and had a part in Pretty Woman, as well as other movies and TV shows. (She is also well-known for her role on Wings, but I never watched that show. Now that's it's on Netflix, maybe I should give it a try...) Yasbeck's strong Catholic upbringing is evident throughout the book, but I never saw a mention of any religious leanings of Ritter's.
Yasbeck goes into some detail about aortic dissection, which was the cause of Ritter's untimely death in 2003. The media inaccurately portrayed his condition as undetectable. Unfortunately I don't remember hearing much about it after that. Just as others have taken up causes to educate the public about diseases and health conditions that have claimed the lives of loved ones, Yasbeck has made Familial Aortic Aneurysm and Dissection her cause. It has helped save lives, including that of Ritter's younger brother.
This was a quick read - funny and sad, informative on so many levels. And even after 8 years, I find myself still missing him.
13. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
I'm somewhat of a Julia Roberts fan, so when I saw she had made this movie, I wanted to read the book first.
While Gilbert and I are not like-minded politically or religiously, I did enjoy her writing style. I liked reading about her time in Italy (somewhere I've always wanted to go, especially since I'm Italian...), India, and Indonesia. My favorite parts were about the people she met.
As for her search for balance and "finding God", I found much of it tedious. I think my least favorite section was on India, where she spent her entire four months in an ashram studying under an absentee guru. At times I was tempted to put the book down and forget it, but I wanted to get on to Indonesia and see what she experienced there, which was more interesting.
Overall it was an okay book. Not one I'd want on my own shelf, and not one that I'd really recommend to anyone - especially someone who isn't a Christian. (I'd hate for them to think I, in any way, condone her search for spirituality.) Then again, I'd find it hard to recommend to a Christian, too, just because so much of what she believes is contradictory.
And now that I've finished the book the movie is no longer streaming on Netflix. (I rarely see movies when they're showing at the theater.) I remember thinking as I was reading that it would be difficult to make this into a great movie. Apparently critics agreed. My youngest sister and my mother-in-law both said they weren't impressed with it. Lindsay only enjoyed seeing all the Italian food; Ginny didn't watch much of the movie at all because she got bored with it. I'm not going to waste my time ordering it from Netflix to watch at home. If they put it on streaming again, I might give it a try, but most likely I won't.
14. Gather Together in my Name by Maya Angelou
Earlier this year, I finally read the highly acclaimed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, part one of Maya Angelou's autobiography. It left me wanting to know more.
Gather Together in my Name is the second part, covering 3 years - the late teens - of Angelou's life. So much happened during her childhood, and so much more during her late teen years, that it's hard to imagine the full, revered life she would come to have.
This book picks up where Caged Bird left off, with Angelou (then known as "Rita" Johnson) trying to make ends meet for herself and her infant son. She sees herself as big and ugly, and she has such a desire to be loved and taken care of that she falls into bad situations with tough characters. Somehow she always lands on her feet, bruised and scarred, but with a greater determination to make things work out rather than laying down and dying to her dreams.
As Gather Together ends, Angelou is once again at the bottom of the ladder, having made a (hopefully) wise decision to return with her young son to her mother's house, even though it's full of denial and sadness. Now I have an urge to read the third part. I know the end of the story - the fame and success and honor she's attained. The amazing part is her journey there.
I would definitely recommend I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Gather Together in my Name, but be warned that a lot of the content is seedy and, at times, graphic.