THE ART OF ASKING by Amanda Palmer

Reviewed by: Charis Loveland

“…Asking for help with gratitude says we have the power to help each other.”


In her first book The Art of Asking, polarizing musician Amanda Palmer shares her struggles with asking for help. She seems to resist most when asking people she loves, like her husband, writer Neil Gaiman. To ask, Palmer argues, is to expose yourself to vulnerability. She battles with her self esteem and feels like she can’t ask her husband for money. In this way, she demonstrates the struggle that we all face with our inner demons.

Amanda has been called shameless, but I believe a better word is “unashamed.” She’s true to herself, and lets the rest go. I admire how comfortable she is, and how much confidence she exudes.

Amanda shares proudly the parts of the book that her fans contributed to. As a fan who has interacted with Amanda on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog, reading this made me feel so connected to her and to this book, similar to how I feel connected with Amanda when listening to her songs.


JOHNNY CASH: THE LIFE by Robert Hilburn

Reviewed by: Michael Blackmore

“Cash said he was someone ‘made up of bad parts but was trying to do good.’”


I had long been a fan of Johnny Cash, so Johnny Cash: The Life was a great way to dig deeper into the man whose music has moved me over the years. One of the things that became clear through this biography was the contradictory pulls in Cash’s life, and how they shaped him as a man and artist.

Cash’s life was woven from the threads of his religious faith, struggles, and strong passions—which, when tied to his ambition for a career in music, ultimately made him a legend. It was filled with self-destructive tendencies, including addictions which would pull his life apart, separate him from others and sometimes nearly kill him.

Hilburn shows clearly both sides—you feel twinges of pain when Cash falls apart, and joy when he rises from those depths. Even more powerful is witnessing how intertwined it all is in making him the man, and artist, he was. The depths were as much a part of him as the heights—together they gave him the essence he could express so powerfully in his best music, and an authenticity, which spoke to a vast range of people—from prisoners facing a life sentence for their crimes, to the very rich and powerful.  It is a clear-sighted and powerful portrayal of the man in all his complexity.

Despite this book being 600+ pages, it flew by as it covered the whole of Cash’s life. That’s yet another sign of what a great biography Johnny Cash: The Life is.

THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir

Reviewed by: Kris

“I can’t wait till I have grandchildren. When I was younger, I had to walk to the rim of a crater. Uphill! In an EVA suit! On Mars, ya little shit! Ya hear me? Mars!”


The Martian was one of the best books I have read in the past several years. It is gripping, funny, thought provoking, and thoroughly entertaining. I was blown away by how well researched it was. I am not a scientist, but the layman’s explanations of the many scientific facts that are crucial to the plot made sense to me.

As the protagonist is left stranded on Mars, there are very few relationships in the book. Rather than this making the novel dry and stagnant, the element of danger and the humor keep it very lively. I enjoyed getting both Watney’s perspective and that of the scientists and media back on Earth. The Martian is a beautifully crafted book, plot and words alike—one of those that makes me a bit sad to have finished reading it. Its status as a New York Times Bestseller of 2014 was justly earned.


Reviewed by: Hillary Mull

“Each time you blow a kiss to that world, you spread pollen that might grow into a new plant.


You Are Stardust is a children’s book is filled with fantastic comparisons of the wonders of the earth to the wonders of our bodies and selves (e.g., electricity in lightning and the electricity in our brains). The illustrations are mind-boggling photographic collages of origami, string, little paper balls, and cut-outs of boys and girls in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors playing and exploring.

My children love the book and want to read it almost every night—my daughter even took it to school to show her science teacher! They relate well to the idea of drinking water from lakes where dinosaurs drank, and sneezing with the force of a tornado. The author and illustrator make nature and earthly wonders accessible to children in this book, and the reader realizes that as amazing as we are, and as much care as we take with ourselves, we must extend that same awe and care to our planet. What a great message.

NATIVE SON by Richard Wright

Reviewed by: Michael Blackmore

“Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread.”


Amazingly, March 1 is the 75th anniversary of Native Son and it still stands as a powerful exploration of racism and violence.  Despite its historic status, I avoided reading it for years because of the graphic violence and particularly the violence toward women it was known for. Once I read it, I found it a compelling novel that kept pulling me deeper in, despite those issues.

Native Son is a protest novel, touching on issues of race and class that are just as real in contemporary times as they were in 1940.  Wright’s prose style is naturalistic which made for easy reading and underscored in a powerful way the events within it.

The lead, Bigger, is often without empathy for others because of his underlying fear, jealousy and anger as a black man living in a world that shuts him out and diminishes him as a person because of his race. This serves as a crucible leading to horrific acts by Bigger and ultimately triggers an examination of the forces that shape him and the beginnings of too late self-examination by him.

Because Bigger doesn’t fall into the easy place of being a hero, or even “anti-hero,” I find the book makes for a much more substantial exploration of the complexities of race and violence in America.  What happens is disturbing, but the world in which it happens is just as disturbing – which is the power of the book to me. Seventy five years later and still an essential read.