Today’s book review roundup is pretty nonfiction heavy, but all five of these books are very different in both style and content. One interesting commonality is that hree of these books were recommended on favorite podcasts, and one is pocdast-adjacent. Let’s get right to the reviews!
The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, by Andy Greene: There are few things I enjoy more than getting a behind-the-scenes look at something I love, so I was thrilled to dig into this tell-all of one of my Top Five favorite shows. Luke and I are currently rewatching The Office along with the Office Ladies podcast, so the timing of this book’s release couldn’t have been better for me. The book is an oral history of the show, told exclusively through quotes from interviews with the writers, producers, and actors involved in The Office. We learn about the show’s origins, life on the set, and the creative decisions involved with various plot trajectories and character development. The book is organized by season, with deep dives into a few key episodes from each year.
This book will hold zero appeal for those not deeply familiar with The Office, but for avid fans, it is a delightful read. Even having listened to Angela and Jenna’s detailed commentary on Office Ladies, I learned a lot about the show specifically, and about how television in general is created, something that truly fascinates me. I enjoyed hearing about the attention paid to certain details I never would have noticed, and it was nice to get a better understanding of what was happening in the lives of the crew and in the broader world at the time each season was being created.
I was disappointed by the lack of actor interviews; we hear from some of the minor characters but very little from the main cast. It was also hard to hear negative comments about specific individuals (though the praise for others—specifically Steve Carrell—was so nice to hear). The last few chapters, exploring The Office post-Michael Scott, were also quite painful to listen to, as the show really did go down hill during the last couple of seasons. Still, the book gave me a better appreciation for why The Office went in certain directions once Steve left (which, I was shocked to learn, was not his choice!). Overall, the book only heightened my love and appreciation for this show.
This style of book is well suited to audiobook, and I’m glad that I listened rather than read. However, it took me a while to get used to the narrators, who are not the actual cast members. I also downloaded the Kindle version from the library to view the photos included in the back of the book. They were insightful, but not enough to warrant choosing the print or e-versions over audio.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
The Saturdays, by Elizabeth Enright: The four Melendy children—two girls and two boys, ages 6 to 13—live in a New York City brownstone with their father and beloved housekeeper, Cuffy. One rainy Saturday, the children decide to begin pooling their weekly allowances so that each weekend one of the children can spend the whole amount on a special outing for him or herself. Over the course of several Saturdays, we follow the children as they make new friends, hear exciting stories, and get caught up in brand new adventures. Through their experiences they learn a lot about their world, themselves, and the family that is more of a gift than they had realized.
Though it was originally published in 1941, I had never heard of this series until it was mentioned on a recent episode of the New York Times Book Review podcast. I’m so glad to have been introduced to the Melendys. The story reminded me a lot of several other sweet family series including the Boxcar Children, the Penderwicks, and the Vanderbeekers—all classics (or modern classics) that are equally enjoyable for children and their parents. This is a sweet, humorous story with an adorable cast of very memorable characters. I found it especially interesting to read a book written and set during the Second World War that references the event but isn’t about the War itself. Though some of the language and ideas of The Saturdays are a bit dated, the themes of familial love and youthful curiosity are timeless.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, by Ronan Farrow: In my (very unpopular) opinion, the #MeToo movement has gotten a little out of hand, and I don’t think I would have picked up this book if I hadn’t heard—and been very impressed with—Ronan Farrow on Armchair Expert. Even though I was familiar with Farrow’s 2017 investigation and ultimate take-down of Harvey Weinstein, hearing Farrow’s interview had me eager to read his take on the investigation.
While Catch and Kill does include some of the details of Weinstein’s sexual misconduct, the book centers around Farrow’s experience with the story—from first learning about the producer’s predatory behavior in 2017 to the high-stakes investigative journalism that jeopardized his career, his relationships, and even his personal safety. In his pursuit of the truth, Farrow came into contact with teams of high-paid lawyers and international spies, all involved in the corruption and cover-ups within Hollywood and Washington.
Although the behavior that Farrow uncovered didn’t exactly shock me, I was surprised by the massive efforts made to conceal the story and put a halt to Farrow’s investigation. I was impressed with Farrow’s commitment to the truth as well as the quality of his writing, which manages to make a journalistic endeavor read like a fast-paced thriller. I appreciated Farrow’s inclusion of his personal backstory and emotional involvement, which brought color to the stark facts of his investigation. Farrow is a passionate and often humorous narrator—not something that can be said about every reporter.
This is an important book—as a record of a culturally significant moment, and for the ways it exposes poor behavior at the highest levels of politics and entertainment. It is a reminder that everyone (even the wealthy and powerful) can and should be held accountable for their behavior. It’s also much better written that it could have been or even needed to be to garner success, given the high-profile subject matter. However, I had a hard time really getting into this one, probably because true crime isn’t really a genre I gravitate towards. I listened to the audio: it is excellently produced, but Farrow’s accents of the various interviewees is too dramatic, almost to the point of being condescendingly comical and watering down the book’s impact.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars.
Mom Up: Mom Up: Thriving with Grace in the Chaos of Motherhood, by Kara-Kae James: When Kara-Kae James was a young mom, struggling to hold her head above water, she was frequently told by other moms how difficult motherhood could be and that the goal was simply to power through it. But James wanted more: she wanted to not just survive life as a mom, but thrive. She wanted the abundant life promised in Scripture and knew that that life wasn’t unavailable to her simply because she had children. In Mom Up, James shares how she has discovered a more fulfilling life through intentional motherhood, genuine community, refreshing rest, and embracing chaos. She shares the insecurities and limitations she’s had to overcome and the idols she’s had to let go of, and she brings a mix of grace and cheerleading to moms who want (and need) to do the same.
I read this book over Mother’s Day weekend and was excited to dig in after hearing the author on Focus on the Family and then realizing the forward was written by Jamie Ivey. But I don’t think this book brought much to the table that isn’t already discussed in every book directed toward moms. Messages of letting go of perfectionism, reaching out to community, dropping expectations, making time for rest. . . we’ve all heard these messages before and I don’t feel that James presented them in a particularly refreshing or memorable way. I also struggled with her message that it’s not okay to struggle because I don’t see that proven in Scripture. Just because we have hard days doesn’t mean that we aren’t ultimately thriving. Also, mental illness (specifically postpartum depression) is a legitimate problem and not one that can easily be overcome by a simple decision to step up our momming game. There is quite a bit of prosperity Gospel coming through these messages (although it’s pretty subtle) and while James was likely well-intentioned, I believe parts of her book can be more harmful than helpful for moms who are truly floundering in their parenting and in their faith. I did have a few good takeaways and reminders, but mostly this is a book I could have passed on.
My Rating: 3 Stars.
How Happiness Happens: Finding Lasting Joy in a World of Comparison, Disappointment, and Unmet Expectations by Max Lucado: In case you missed it, I gave a thorough review of this book last week, sharing some key takeaways. If you, like me, are interested in learning more about how to cultivate lasting joy, this is a great place to start. Remarkably, this was the first (non-children’s) book I’ve read by Max Lucado and I was surprised and delighted by his humorous, straight-forward writing style and Biblical insight. I read this on Kindle and followed up with a listen to the audiobook, and I’ll give the head’s up that the audio isn’t read by the author. However, there is a great interview between the narrator and Max Lucado at the end of the audiobook that is worth the listen.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
I have five more book reviews headed your way next Monday!