SONY DSCAs an editor and a reader there’s nothing I love more than a book that gives me a true emotional experience. Often, that experience is laughter. I work on a lot of humor books, and people tell me all the time that the books I work on make them laugh. But Brooke Shields’s book, There Was a Little Girl, was the first book I’ve edited that made me cry – and not just once!

From the moment I learned Brooke wanted to write this book I knew it was going to be powerful. Her mother was a fascinating, controversial figure, and I’d already read about and was intrigued by her life story. But when Brooke came in to meet with us and told us about her experience of growing up with Teri Shields and all of their ups and downs – as well as the painful experience of letting her mother go in October 2012 – I just couldn’t believe how touching, and relatable the story was. No one in the world has had a life like Brooke’s, but the experiences and emotions she’s had are truly 100% relatable to anyone who has ever loved (and lost) a parent.

ThereWasALittleGirlBrooke and I worked together on the manuscript for the next nine months – an amount of time we both noted! – and it was an incredible experience. Brooke wrote the whole book herself, just as she did when she wrote Down Came the Rain, and her voice and emotions come through on every page. There are moments of incredible humor, but so many lines still choke me up and have literally moved me to tears. As both a daughter and a soon-to-be mother, this book has truly touched me in so many ways, and taught me so much about the power of love, even when it isn’t easy. I couldn’t be more excited to share Brooke and Teri’s story with the world!


AllisonPrince

Allison Prince is the advertising and promotion coordinator for Gotham and Avery where she has the pleasure of designing ads, promo materials, and seasonal catalogs. She loves nature, books, folk music, and Brussels sprouts.

 

 

 

 

marblesMarbles, by Ellen Forney

Graphic novels have the unique power to get people who don’t consider themselves “readers” to pick up a book. With this comes great responsibility. Ellen Forney’s graphic memoir bravely shows her struggles with bipolar disorder, and delivers a larger imperative message: Mental illness—like any other illness—is a disease, not a case of choosing to feel sad, or something to just “get over.” In the wake of Robin Williams’s passing, we need more brave people like Forney to come forward and share their stories of living and thriving by seeking help on those darkest days.

 

 

 

stitchesStitches, by Anne Lamott

One of my favorite lines of Stiches is “Beauty is a miracle of things going together imperfectly.” Anne Lamott’s incredible meditation on loss and transforming sad situations in life into hope and healing uses the metaphor of sewing and stitches throughout, showing that each “tear” in our fabric helps to make us who we are. It’s hard to adequately describe this book in a few lines, so I recommend reading it and finding solace in it yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

lostdogsThe Lost Dogs, by Jim Gorant

As a huge dog lover, I was horrified when I heard about Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring. Despite the atrocities they faced, almost every dog saved was able to recover from the trauma and receive a loving home. Here’s another reminder that no dog (no pit bull!) is fundamentally rotten; it was probably a human who made it that way. It is heartwarming to know these dogs will receive all the snuggles and love they deserve for the rest of their lives.

 

 

 

 

Run, Don’t Walk, by Adele Levine rundon'twalk

Adele Levine’s memoir about working as a physical therapist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center is equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious. Adele herself is a hero for helping our heroes. Despite the horrors these veterans faced, and continue to face which each surgery and painful rehabilitation, they still find chances to laugh. Laughter can be excellent medicine.

 

 

 

 

 

notfadeNot Fade Away, by Rebecca Alexander

Since first hearing about the proposal, I was in love with Not Fade Away, a memoir from a psychotherapist, athlete, and volunteer, who also has the rare and incurable Usher syndrome type III, which is making her gradually lose her hearing and sight. But Rebecca’s story isn’t about what she’s losing; it’s about how she lives each day to the fullest. She counts every day as a gift, and reading her story reminds me to do the same.

 

 

 

 

To find Health & Self-Improvement books, click here.

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 


The-Big-TinyDee Williams is the author of The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir and the proud owner of an 84 square-foot house. She is a teacher and sustainability advocate, and the co-owner of Portland Alternative Dwellings where she leads workshops focused on tiny houses, green building, and community design. This blog post is part of a series drawing from Dee’s experiences and themes from The Big Tiny, on sale April 22.

“A few days ago, I spent almost an hour trying to recondition an oscillating fan that I found in a junk pile. I’m not certain, but I think the reason it was tossed out was because it had a frightening wad of human hair wrapped around the spindle where the fan blades connect to the motor. It was disgusting and curious, and exactly the sort of thing you find on junk day in Olympia.

I love junk day. Everyone puts out their rubbish—their busted-up washing machines and hot water heaters, dysfunctional blenders and vacuum cleaners—all so they can be hauled off to the dump. But before they go, passersby like me can walk around scanning for useful goods, occasionally lunging into the debris piles like a pearl diver. Last year I found a perfectly good electric lawn mower that I was able to rewire and repair with a couple rolls of duct tape; today I found this hairy fan.

I took everything apart in the garage, cut the toupee out of the machinery, and repaired a break in the electric cord. I sprayed the fan with vinegar and swabbed the plastic, dabbing here and there, and flipping the unit like it was a newborn and I was a neonatal surgeon.”

Excerpt from The Big Tiny

Ten years ago, as I was getting ready to build my house, I couldn’t fathom spending my time meandering through my neighborhood picking through junk piles.  I was completely absorbed, and marginally overwhelmed, by the design process; drawing sketches, making lists and re-thinking exactly how much space I needed to make a peanut butter sandwich, put on a pair of pants, or sit-up in bed.  I started carrying a tape measure and pocket notebook everywhere I went, so I could not-so-subtly investigate the height of my desk at work, the size of my chair, or the rise and run of the steps leading up to my doctor’s office.  I read a thousand books and dreamed about sheds and cabins.

A month later when I finally picked up my trailer – the foundation for my little house – my plans had firmed up enough to start cracking things open with a Skill-Saw.  I’ll never forget standing in my driveway, staring at the bric-a-brac of tools and wood stacked around my trailer, clicking things off in my head  - extension cord, power drill, coffee, gumption… check, check, check and mostly-check. I realized that this was IT.  I was now going to do a swan dive into the grizzled manly world of carpentry.  I took one step back and immediately fell into a tool bucket, knee-caps over earlobes.

In the next three months, I discovered that carpentry wasn’t something I could learn from a book. Not even a really awesome book with pictures, annotated references, and color-coded “Helpful Hints,” though they are a good place to start.  I couldn’t learn by watching YouTube videos either, since it hadn’t been invented yet; instead, I had to learn by doing — by gripping a stick of wood and trying to manage it onto a wobbly-wheeled cart at the lumberyard.

In the first weeks of building, I had as many set-backs as successes.  I nearly twisted my arm off with a power drill. I glued my hair to the house and spent countless hours salvaging wood only to find out I couldn’t use it.  I kept at it, though, and one day without really thinking about it, I discovered my arms knew exactly how to run a piece of wood through a table saw and my back remembered how to gracefully lift plywood off my car’s roof rack. I knew how to read the grain on a piece of wood, and could problem-solve why the rafters weren’t lining up perfectly.  My muscle memory took over, and it saved the day, day after day for three months.

If I had it to do over, I’d have celebrated a little more the first time I was able to lift a 60-pound piece of plywood without feeling I’d rip my arm out of socket, and I’d have seen what a miracle it was that I – a small woman, a cardiac care patient, a ding-dong when it came to carpentry – was building my house.

My advice to other would-be builders is to DO IT!  Get some good books and then volunteer with Habitat for Humanity or other building organization.  Take a carpentry class, or help your carpenter-neighbor build a deck. You can’t beat the education you’ll get by unloading a truck that is full of lumber, or by holding sticks of wood together so they can be fastened in place.  You won’t just get smart, handy, and sore, you’ll also probably have a ton of self-satisfied fun.

Fun is what motivates me out on junk day, and it is the thing that’s currently nudging me to stop writing so I can get back to banging the rusty nails out of the stack of beautiful scrap wood I just dragged home from the neighbor’s junk pile. Cheers to having fun while living the dream!


This holiday season, our Penguin authors can help you find the best book for everyone on your list.

View more holiday recommendations on the Random House Tumblr.

The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert Elizabeth Gilbert began her writing journey with two acclaimed works of fiction—the short story collection Pilgrims and the novel Stern Men. Both were New York Times Notable Books. Her nonfiction work, The Last American Man, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her two memoirs (Eat, Pray, Love and Committed) were both number one New York Times bestsellers. In 2008, Time magazine named her one of the one hundred most influential people in the world. Her journalism has been published in Harper’s Bazaar, Spin, and The New York Times Magazine, and her stories have appeared in Esquire, Story, and the Paris Review.

Want Not, by Jonathan Miles

Every generation or so an American novel appears that holds up a mirror to our lives and shows us exactly who we are right at this moment. Want Not is that book right now — a searing but compassionate look at modern Americans and their STUFF. A book about garbage and consumption and accumulation and disposal…but most of all about humanity. Simply put, the best book of the year.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

They didn’t give her the Booker Prize for nothing, guys. The best contemporary novel about the 16th century you’ll ever read, with the most powerful and muscular antihero (Thomas Cromwell) of recent memory.

Night Film, by Marisha Pessl

I’ve been an admirer of Pessl’s since her splendid debut, Special Topics in Calamity Physics and her latest novel rocked my world — a bold, dark, complex, universe of fear and art and obsession.

The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach

This is a novel I’ve purchased for several members of my family, and those copies have been lovingly passed around. A novel about baseball (but not really about baseball), it has been enjoyed by everyone from my serious seventeen year old nephew to my nostalgic seventy-two year old dad.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë

To my shame, I realized this year that I’d never read this classic. I THOUGHT I had read it, but I think I’d just semi-absorbed it thorough osmosis over the decades. But now I have read it, and it dazzles. It is also, with all apologies to contemporary erotica, the frankly sexiest (even kinkiest) bit of writing around.

 

 


This holiday season, our Penguin authors can help you find the best book for everyone on your list.

View more holiday recommendations on the Random House Tumblr.
Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Help, Thanks, Wow; Some Assembly Required; Grace (Eventually); Plan B; and Traveling Mercies, as well as several novels, including Imperfect Birds and Rosie. A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an inductee to the California Hall of Fame, she lives in Northern California.

Tattoos on the Heart, by Father Greg Boyle

Gorgeous memoir of a priest who works with ex-gang members in LA.

Stations of the Heart, by Richard Lischer

Brilliant, sad, illuminating story of a deeply spiritual father losing his grown son while the son and wife are expecting.

Read an excerpt »

Half Baked, by Alexa Stevenson

The funniest, most wonderful memoir of a woman and her preemie in the Pediatric ICU.

What I Thought I Knew, by Alice Eve Cohen

View the Reading Group Guide »

Another lovely, laugh-out-loud story of a woman with an incredibly challenging birth.

After Mandela, by Douglas Foster

The best book on South Africa after the revolution in years. The subtitle is “The Search for Freedom in Post-Apartheid South Africa.”

Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes

A very funny and harrowing novel about a young woman who becomes a caregiver for a handsome quadriplegic man.

Read an Excerpt »
View the Reading Group Guide »
Listen to a playlist »

Is This Tomorrow, by Caroline Leavitt

I enjoy everything she writes. This is right up there with her Pictures of You.

The Wrong Dog Dream, by Jane Vandenburgh

A love story by the great novelist and memorist about her cherished husband and dog.

What’s the Matter with White People, by Joan Walsh

Brilliant commentary on how and why the US has ended up in such political misery.

Gypsy Boy, by Mikey Walsh

An exciting voice from England, Walsh writes a boy about growing up in a violent gypsy family and discovering he is gay.


mastering_the_art_of_french_eatingI was making a quiche, rubbing butter and flour between my fingertips, and thinking about the French immersion course I took before I moved to Paris, about the lessons and my classmates, and a poem that we learned by heart. It’s a slight poem, and mournful. I can still recite the words.

Chanson d’Automne de Paul Verlaine

Les sanglots longs
des violons
de l’automne
blessent mon coeur
d’une langueur
monotone.

Tout suffocant
et blême, quand
sonne l’heure
je me souviens
des jours anciens
et je pleure

Et je m’en vais
au vent mauvais
qui m’emporte
decà, delà
pareil à la
feuille morte

(Translation: The long sobs of autumn’s violins wound my heart with a dreary lethargy.

All stifled and lifeless, when the hour strikes I remember days gone by and I weep.

And so I go on an ill wind, which carries me here and there like a dead leaf.)

Pretty mournful, right?

The cadence of Paul Verlaine’s autumn song swam in my head as I squeezed water from defrosted spinach, and chopped some steamed broccoli, and whisked together eggs, milk, and cheese. When the quiche was in the oven, I sat down at my computer and Googled “Chanson d’Automne.” And I made a discovery.

During World War II, the BBC and the French Resistance developed a code to signal the start of Operation Overlord, aka D-Day—and they used the first three lines of Chanson d’Automne as an alert. When repeated twice—“Les sanglots longs/ des violons/ de l’automne”—meant that operations would start within two weeks. The lines were broadcast on June 1, 1944. When the poem’s next three lines were transmitted twice—“Blessent mon coeur/ d’une langueur/ monotone”—it signaled that the action would take place within 48 hours and that the Resistance should begin sabotage operations. These lines were broadcast on June 5, 1944.

It turns out that Paul Verlaine’s despondent poem—part of an 1866 series that he oh-so-cheerfully entitled Paysages Tristes, or “sad landscapes”—was actually a symbol of hope.

I leave you with a recipe for quiche and the wish that cooking it may bring you many insightful, heartening, and inspiring contemplations.

quiche_ mastering_the_art_of_french_eatingSpinach and cheese quiche

1 recipe pâte brisée dough
1 lb frozen chopped spinach
1 cup grated cheese (Comté, Gruyère)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups milk or cream
Salt and pepper

With clean cool hands and a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough on a floured surface and fit it into a 22-cm/10-inch tart pan. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork. Chill for one hour (allegedly this reduces the shrinking). Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Bake the tart crust until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven.

While the shell is baking, defrost the spinach and squeeze it dry (I usually use my bare hands. It’s very satisfying). Combine with the milk, cheese, and beaten eggs. Season well. Pour the egg mixture into the prepared crust. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, or until the quiche is puffed, set, and lightly golden.


mastering_the_art_of_french_eatingFor me, the only thing better than eating in Paris is reading in Paris. Happily for us Anglophones, the City of Light offers a bevy of quirky, quaint, and eclectic English-language bookshops, a veritable book lover’s feast. But if you’re anything like me, shopping makes you hungry. Here, then, are some of my favorite bookstores, paired with a nearby restaurant, so you can read and snack to your heart’s content.

The Abbey Bookshop (29 rue de la Parcheminerie) — The small space overflows with new and used books, and the author reading events sometimes spill over into the small pedestrian street outside with people sipping wine and chatting about literature late into the night. Owner Brian Spence offers astute reading suggestions and is wonderfully supportive of local writers. Food tip: I love the chilled soju cocktails and Japanese tapas at Lengué (31 rue de la Parchemnierie), the restaurant next door.

shakespeare & coGalignani (224 rue du Rivoli) — This is an elegant grande dame of Paris, with dark wood paneling and a polished calm. The store offers a solid assortment of photo books, English-language guides on France, as well as gorgeous art books. Food tip: After browsing here, continue your decadent tour with a visit to the luxurious tea room, Angelina (226 rue du Rivoli), for a pot of their famously thick hot chocolate.

Shakespeare & Co (37 rue de la Bûcherie) — A Parisian landmark for book-lovers, this rambling shop on the Left Bank hardly needs an introduction. A visit here is part shopping expedition, part pilgrimage to honor the men and women of letters who once browsed the shelves. The young and penniless still lend a hand in the store in exchange for lodging—they’re called Tumbleweeds. Food tip: After a visit to Shakespeare & Co.’s narrow, crowded, claustrophobia-inducing aisles a brisk walk is in order. I suggest strolling across the Seine to the Ile St-Louis and getting an ice cream from Berthillon (31 Ile St-Louis). My favorite flavor is black currant sorbet.

WH Smith (248 rue du Rivoli) — The bright and bustling British chain stocks the latest in UK and US bestsellers, and also offers a wide selection of English-language magazines and newspapers. I’m also fond of the British snacks (like Twiglets, or salt and vinegar crisps) on offer on the second floor. Food tip: I like to buy a bag of chips and eat them in the Jardin des Tuileries, located just across the street.

The American Library in Paris (10 rue du Général Camou) — Though this is a membership library—not a bookstore—there are wonderful, free author events here every Wednesday evening (full disclosure: I used to organize them). Recent speakers have included Diane Johnson, Lionel Shriver, and Richard Russo. Food tip: Les Deux Abeilles (189 rue de l’Université) is a lovely tearoom with delicious quiche and a chocolate-almond cake that I dream about.

(Photo credit: Kristin Espinasse)


mastering_the_art_of_french_eatingThe first time I ever ate savory cake, I was at a cocktail party in Provence. I had just completed a seven-week French immersion program and I was eager to test out my brand new language skills. Still, when I found myself being introduced to the village mayor, my heart started to pound with nerves.

The mayor had a bald head, intelligent eyes, and was missing a finger from a hunting accident. He was interested in my husband’s job as a diplomat, and in the various countries we had called home. “Did you enjoy living in Beijing?” he asked in French.

“It was a wonderful experience, but sometimes challenging,” I said. “La ville est très salée.” Everyone within earshot laughed uproariously. It took me a minute, but eventually I realized that somehow in my fluster, I had confused “sale”—which means dirty—with “salée,” or salty.

Perhaps I was distracted by the delicious cake salé, or savory cake, on offer at the party, a booze-soaked loaf studded with bits of ham and Gruyère cheese. I had “salé” on the mind you might say.

Years have passed since that party, my French has improved considerably, and I’ve learned how to make my own savory cake, one with walnuts and Roquefort cheese that whips up quickly for a lovely lunch or drinks party (see recipe below). Every time I make it, I think of that balmy summer evening and my funny French language gaffe—and though I’ve made plenty of linguistic errors since then, I’ve never confused those two words again.

Savory cake with roquefort and walnuts/
Cake au Roquefort  mastering_the_art_of_french_eating_post_1et aux noix

3 eggs
150 grams flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Scant 1/2 cup sunflower seed oil
1/2 cup milk
100 grams Gruyère, grated
150 grams Roquefort (or domestic blue cheese)
80 grams walnuts, toasted and chopped
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Butter and flour a loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix the eggs with the flour and baking powder. Add the oil and milk slowly, alternating between the two. Stir in the grated Gruyère and season lightly (remember, the cheeses are very salty). Crumble the roquefort into the batter and add the nuts. Stir gently to combine.

Transfer the batter into your prepared loaf pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.


all_good_thingsThere are places in the world that need no introduction – the mere sound of their names automatically triggers postcard images. Paris happens to be one; Tahiti is another. Both destinations make people dream, one for its man-made beauty, the glorious monuments and handsome buildings, the other for its natural splendour and lush landscape. Everyone from Bougainville to Brando has raved about Tahiti, calling it the new Utopia, Garden of Eden, Isle of Love, among other superlatives. So the reaction when we announced our move to the celebrated Pacific island was perhaps unsurprising. ‘From Paris to Paradise’ exclaimed one friend enviously.

The setting for our new life truly was idyllic. We chose to live not on Tahiti but on neighbouring Mo’orea, only thirty minutes by fast ferry from Pape’ete and less developed and congested than the main island. From our front door we could gaze at the spectacular spires of mountains, surging up from the interior. Round the back, just metres from the porch where we mostly lived, the turquoise lagoon spread out from the shoreline like a silk petticoat. I could go on and on about this wondrous womb of water, where I began each day with an early swim. City girl that I was, the submarine world was foreign and thrilling to me: the wiggling webs of refracted light; the euphoric greens and blues of the lagoon; the spotted eagle rays that glided by, shy and graceful.

Yet All Good Things is not, I’m afraid, a tale of paradise found. If in places it might seem to fan the myth of Tahiti, other parts of the book might be said to debunk it – though in fact I didn’t set out to do either. As in Almost French, my memoir about life in Paris, my aim was to look beyond the fantasy. Real life is never postcard-perfect. I wanted to celebrate all that I loved about our new home while also being honest about the particular challenges I faced there – challenges that stemmed as much from the private dreams and hopes I’d brought with me as the reality of living on a small, remote island.

There’s an element of escape in every big move and ours to Tahiti – the ultimate escapists’ destination, after all – was no different. The opportunity arrived out of the blue in the form of a job offer for my husband, Frédéric. At a different point of our lives we might not even have considered it. But an unwelcome poignancy had cast a shadow over our carefree Paris existence. Years of infertility treatment had produced nothing but a string of failures and we were beginning to despair of ever having a child. Tahiti offered us a fresh start – a new professional challenge for Frédéric, a chance for me to write the novel I’d been researching in an environment with few distractions. And perhaps, we dared hope but not say aloud, a beautiful, unpolluted, fertile island would be an ideal place to fall pregnant naturally.

It’s as old as the hills, this idea of islands as earthly paradise, and it helps explain why Tahiti was hailed as a dream come true the moment the first Europeans set eyes on it. Yet once we were settled on Mo’orea another enduring perception of islands sprang to mind. From my writing desk I’d stare at the sparkling lagoon and the inky ocean beyond the reef, uplifted by the sight even as I felt trapped by it. From that tiny coin of land amid Earth’s grandest ocean, the rest of the world seemed like another planet. ‘Every island is a potential Alcatraz’, writes Thurston Clarke in Searching for Paradise.

This paradise-prison dichotomy heightened my daily experience on Mo’orea, adding drama and meaning to aspects of ordinary life. The full moons that rolled runners of gold light across the lagoon were the hugest, most marvellous moons I’d ever seen; the kind generosity of our Polynesian neighbours seemed boundless. I’d never known time to be as elastic as during those long hours between my early morning swim and Frédéric’s return from work. My own sense of inner emptiness expanded too.

When people comment how lucky I am to have lived in exotic places, I can only agree, though not for the reasons they might imagine. I didn’t find paradise on the island, I didn’t find serenity among the coconut palms. Yet perhaps the exuberant glare of the lagoon did throw light on some essential truths. Tu te retrouves face à toi-même sur un île, people warned me when we first arrived. You come face to face with yourself on an island. It’s true, you do. I’m grateful now for the way things came to a head. Unexpectedly, indirectly, the island helped my dream come true.


A great way to celebrate Women’s History Month is by reading about the lives of some of our heroines and everyday women. Luckily for you, Penguin has several such books publishing this March!

Rita MorenoOut today is the memoir of Rita Moreno (Rita Moreno: A Memoir). Moreno, made famous by her Oscar-winning performance in West Side Story, grew up in the barrios of the Bronx after traveling to America from Puerto Rico at age 5. Her memoir reflects her journey through Hollywood and the relationships and hardships she faced as an American-Puerto Rican woman in show business.

Listen to a clip of the audiobook read by Rita Moreno herself!

Read an excerpt.

The Still Point of the Turning World

Publishing later this week, The Still Point of a Turning World: A Mother’s Story by Emily Rapp, recounts the story of an ordinary mother put in a rare situation. Rapp had high expectations for her son’s life prior to his birth, but when he was born with Tay-Sachs disease she and her husband were forced to look at their lives in a new light. Her inspiring story shows wisdom and hopefulness in an otherwise tragic situation.

 

 

The Maid and the Queen

Are you a history buff? Do you think you know everything there is to know about Joan of Arc? The Maid and the Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc by Nancy Goldstone might just offer you a bit of previously unknown information about the woman warrior’s relationship with Yolande of Argon.

 

 

Interested in reading more about the lives of spectacular women? Check out all of Penguin’s Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs!

Posted By: Michelle Giuseffi, Online Marketing Intern