mabith's 2018 Reads (Meredith)
This topic was continued by mabith's 2018 Reads (Meredith) Part II.
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Wives and Daughters - Elizabeth Gaskell
Daring to Drive - Manal al-Sharif
We Didn't Mean to go to Sea - Arthur Ransome
Daughter of the Forest - Juliet Marillier
Dare to Disappoint - Ozge Samanci
Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata
Born Both – Hida Viloria
The Rise and Fall of Nations – Ruchir Sharma
Nobody's Child – Marie Balter
Redefining Realness – Janet Mock
Underground Airlines – Ben H. Winters
Born a Crime – Trevor Noah
The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster
Faces in the Crowd – Valeria Luiselli
Victoria and Abdul – Shrabani Basu
This One Summer – Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
Roots – Alex Haley
Frogkisser! - Garth Nix
Letters to a Young Muslim – Omar Saif Ghobash
My Invented Country – Isabell Allende
Patternmaster – Octavia E. Butler
The Man Who Designed the Future – B. Alexandra Szerlip
Son of the Shadows – Juliet Marillier
Until We Are Free – Shirin Ebadi
Amatka – Karin Tidbeck
The Origins of Totalitarianism – Hannah Arendt
Child of the Prophecy – Juliet Marillier
Finn Family Moomintroll – Tove Jansson
Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler
The Nuremberg Trial – John and Ann Tusa
Black Boy (American Hunger) – Richard Wright
Zealot – Reza Aslan
The Last Ballad – Wiley Cash
The Fact of a Body – Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Rootabaga Stories – Carl Sandburg
Poet in Spain – Frederico Garcia Lorca
Ingredienti – Marcella Hazan
Never Caught – Erica Armstrong Dunbar
March Book 1 – John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
March Book 2 – John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
March Book 3 – John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
To the Bright Edge of the World – Eowyn Ivey
The Door in the Wall – Marguerite de Angeli
The Queue – Basma Abdel Aziz
Ladivine – Marie Ndiaye
The Gay Revolution – Lillian Faderman
The Boy on the Wooden Box – Leon Leyson
Strong Poison – Dorothy L. Sayers
Disordered World – Amin Maalouf
The Cat Who Came In Off the Roof – Annie M.G. Schmidt
The Invention of Murder – Judith Flanders
I'm Judging You – Luvvie Ajayi
The American Plague – Molly Caldwell Crosby
The Challenge for Africa – Wangari Maathai
Lotus – Lijia Zhang
Nada – Carmen Laforet
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman – Mary Wollstonecraft
My Several Worlds – Pearl S. Buck
Nobody's Perfect – Donald E. Westlake
How Dare the Sun Rise – Sandra Uwiringiyimana
The Inkblots – Damion Searls
Comet in Moominland – Tove Jansson
The Crusades – Zoe Oldenbourg
The Lost Peg Leg Mine – Car Barks
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats – Jan-Philipp Sendker
Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe - Kapka Kassabova
We Were Eight Years in Power – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
Adam Bede – George Eliot
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
Circe – Madeline Miller
In the Language of Miracles – Rajia Hassib
The Souls of Black Folk – W.E.B. Du Bois
Off the Shelf – Carol Ann Duffy (editor)
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl – Harriet Jacobs
The Gulag Archipelago Vol 3 – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The Backwash of War – Ellen N. La Motte
I'll Be Gone in the Dark – Michelle McNamara
Things I've Been Silent About – Azar Nafisi
Affections – Rodrigo Hasbun
The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal
I Will Bear Witness – Victor Klemperer
The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan
The Queen of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale
Maurice by E.M. Forster
Black Man in a White Coat – Damon Tweedy
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out – Richard Feynman
The Interior Castle – Teresa de Avila
Trumpet – Jackie Kay
War and Turpentine – Stefan Hertmans
Kokoda – Paul Ham
Bismarck – AJP Taylor
The Midwife's Apprentice – Karen Cushman
Theatre Shoes – Noel Streatfeild
Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
Unmentionable – Therese Oneill
Becoming Unbecoming – Una
The Hospital Always Wins – Issa Ibrahim
Phoenix Rising – Karen Hesse
The Real Indians All Died Off – Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Tinker Dabble Doodle Try – Srini Pillay
The Bolivian Diary – Che Guevara
Photographic – Isabel Quintero and Zack Pena
Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward
Voices from the Second World War – Candlewick
I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced – Nujood Ali
Truckers – Terry Pratchett
The Bread Givers – Anzia Yezierska
Into the Silence – Wade Davis
It Ended Badly – Jennifer Wright
Iraq + 100 – Hassan Blasim
Wolfskin – Juliet Marillier
The Neanderthals Rediscovered – Dimitra Papagianni, Michael A. Morse
Bold Spirit – Linda Lawrence Hunt
The Children of Willesden Lane – Mona Golabek
Zinky Boys – Svetlana Alexievich
The Stranger – Albert Camus
The Meursault Investigation – Kamel Daoud
The Line Becomes a River – Francisco Cantu
The Trauma Cleaner – Sarah Krasnostein
The Wizard and the Prophet – Charles C. Mann
On Sanity - Una
The Fox Was Ever the Hunter – Herta Muller
The Orphan Mother – Robert Hicks
I am, I am, I am – Maggie O'Farrell
Dirty River – Leah Piepzna-Samarasinha
Go Tell it on the Mountain – James Baldwin
Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan – Shigeru Mizuki
The Spider King's Daughter – Chibundu Onuzo
Dead Souls – Nikolai Gogol
The Hello Girls – Elizabeth Cobbs
Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie
Interesting Times – Terry Pratchett
1066 And All That – WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman
Magnificent Delusions – Husain Haqqani
The Pleasure Shock – Lone Frank
Fire Road – Kim Phuc Phan Thi
Redemption in Indigo – Karen Lord
Dear World – Bana and Fatemah Alabed
Archangel – Sharon Shinn
Best Reads of 2017
Vietnam – Stanley Karnow
SPQR – Mary Beard
Get Well Soon – Jennifer Wright
The Unwomanly Face of War – Svetlana Alexievich
Radium Girls – Kate Moore
The Bully Pulpit – Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Vanishing Velasquez – Laura Cumming
The Gulag Archipelago Vols 1 and 2 – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Come as You Are – Emily Nagoski
The Death and Life of Great American Cities – Jane Jacobs
The Chinese in America – Iris Chang
William Wells Brown – Ezra Greenspan
The Man Without a Face – Masha Gessen
Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi
The Spiral Staircase – Karen Armstrong
Bone Black – bell hooks
Stammered Songbook – Erwin Mortier
My Mother's Sabbath Days – Chaim Grade
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
MiddleMarch - George Eliot
Passing – Nella Larsen
The File on H – Ismail Kadare
The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake – Breece Pancake
Zorro – Isabel Allende
Poor Cow – Nell Dunn
Stone Butch Blues – Leslie Feinberg
The Sorrow of War – Bao Ninh
The Testament of Mary – Colm Toibin
The Book of Night Women – Marlon James
Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta
Beneath the Lion's Gaze – Maaza Mengiste
Chronicle of a Last Summer – Yasmine el Rashidi
Madonna in a Fur Coat – Sabahattin Ali
The Handmaid's Tale – Margaret Atwood
Welcome back, Meredith. Best wishes for a great year of reading ahead.
Since I'm already behind on reviews, I'll quickly note some reading goals for this year.
--Read more from my shelves (I don't actually buy that many new-to-me books, but they're mounting up a bit)
--Read fewer white, straight, cis, and/or abled authors (particularly for my US, UK, Canadian, and Australian reads)
--Authors from 50 unique countries
Welcome back! Thanks for recapping your 2017 reading - I have SPQR sitting on the couch next to me as I type this.
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell RE-READ
Gaskell is one of my very favorite authors, and this was her last novel. She actually died with about chapter or two left to write, but she had told people how it would end and one of them wrote a sort of concluding chapter (but in a way that acknowledges her death, not trying to mimic her style or write a fully literary chapter, it's done very sensitively).
Molly Gibson is an only child whose mother died when she was very young. Her father is the local doctor and they have a very close relationship. When one of his apprentices tries to secretly send Molly a love note he intercepts it and decides to send her to stay with the Hamleys for a short while. Mrs. Hamley is an invalid and Molly is so sweet and agreeable that she becomes like a daughter to the family. When their son Roger is home from college he interests her in natural history and they think of each other as siblings. She develops a mild crush on Osborne Hamley, the older brother (and golden child until he fails his exams). Her life changes suddenly when her father marries the former governess of the local aristocrats. Hyacinth Kirkpatrick is a shallow, vain, materialistic woman, which her father doesn't realize until it's too late. Molly clashes with her, but loves her step-sister Cynthia, who is a similar age, if a very different temperament.
As usual with Gaskell, every character has flaws and strengths, and Molly, sweet as she is, is no exception. The writing is beautiful, the psychology is extremely tight, and there is plenty of humor. This novel and North and South are my favorites by Gaskell. They're both just beautiful and I find Gaskell's characters so real. Also as usual with Gaskell, her novels feel incredibly, sometimes impossible, modern (even her fallen woman novel, Ruth, has moments like that).
Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening by Manal al-Sharif
A very good memoir about a woman who went from extremely conservative Muslim to leading a group dedicated to protesting Saudi Arabia's restrictions on women driving. She was jailed for some time because of being pulled over driving and being a very visible leader of the online groups relating to this (despite the legal code not actually having restrictions about women driving).
It starts with the police (now I forget if they were the secret police force or the religious police force) coming to her door and taking her away, but quickly breaks off to give her life story and her development as a person and as a Muslim. It's really interesting and I enjoyed getting this look inside Saudi Arabia.
We Didn't Mean to go to Sea by Arthur Ransome
The seventh book in the Swallows and Amazons book series. This one features just the Amazons and a new, older, friend of theirs, Jim Brading, who owns a small cutter. He agrees to have them on his ship for a day and a half or so. The children promise their mother not to go beyond the Beach End buoy at the mouth of the river and not to go to sea. So you can guess what accidentally happens when Jim goes to get petrol but doesn't return after the onset of a thick fog.
Very fun as usual, with some proper danger. I think it's also the first book where the children's father actually shows up (vs being talked about). Only five (complete) book left in the series!
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier RE-READ
Comfort read that I went through very slowly starting in December. It's Marillier's first novel, one of her many historical fantasy stories and part of a trilogy. Her writing is pretty basic, but it is supposed to resemble an oral tale and you end up loving the characters extremely quickly.
It's inspired by the legend The Children of Lir and "The Six Swans" fairy tale, and includes a lot of Irish folk tales and Pagan religion too. Historical fantasy is by far my favorite, and Marillier rarely goes too far on the fantasy elements (no dragons, no unicorns, you don't have fairies on every page, etc...).
This first trilogy of hers and her little duo (Wolfskin and Foxmask) are my favorite by Marillier but I really like all her books.
Dare to Disappoint: Growing up in Turkey by Özge Samancı
This is the author's graphic memoir. She was born in 1975 to parents who were both vocational school teachers (one in technical drawing and one in sewing). Their parents both focused on pushing the girls to do well in school and focus on science so that they could get good jobs as adults. Ozge especially struggled in school and with their parents expectations.
Good solid book, enjoyed the art style used.
Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
Perhaps Kawabata's most famous book, set in the snowiest region of Japan. It started out with a number of short stories about the same characters, which potentially explains why it didn't feel very cohesive.
It's generally about a man who is torn between his family and a woman he loves in a mountain resort town. I wasn't overly pleased with it. Didn't hate it by any means, but didn't love it or feel very interested in it while reading. It's a classic of Japanese literature though, and one of the novels mentioned by the Nobel committee that gave Kawabata the prize for the literature.
I have another short novel by Kawabata on my shelves and I'm not sure whether I'll read it now (wouldn't like to judge an author based on one novel though, and it was published over ten years after Snow Country).
Pam, probably the gentle and formal nature is what I didn't like, honestly. Sometimes that works for me, but it's harder for me to enjoy that kind of book, especially when it's so short and there's not really time to get attached to the characters. I will still read Thousand Cranes though. It's so short, and I would be annoyed to give up an author after just one book.
Born Both: An Intersex Life by Hida Viloria
A really good memoir. Viloria didn't know she was intersex until at adulthood, didn't really know that h/er body was different from more assigned-female-at-birth bodies until teenagehood. Viloria is a member of a very small club - those intersex people who were not operated on. Most go through many operations, largely at almost a whim from doctors who decide what sex the child *should* be. This is incredibly damaging in the long and short term and totally medically unnecessary. Frequently it means the individuals are unable orgasm as adults, not to mention gender identity issues.
I'm not sure how I became aware of this issue as a child, but somehow I did. I remember crying, age 7 or 8, after asking my mom if doctors really just blithely operated on babies without knowing what gender they'd feel like as adult.
Very good memoir, very important addition to the host of LGBT+ memoirs written largely by white, cis people.
The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in the Post-Crisis World by Ruchir Sharma
People look at you weird if you gush about economics books, but this was a great read! Sharma renders it very understandable and interesting. I mean, of course it's interesting, it's a huge part of our lives but the language around it is such a barrier to everyday understanding.
I don't have any great words to describe the book, but I think it and Debt: The First 5,000 Years are really vital reading for understanding the economics of the 21st century.
Nobody's Child by Marie Balter
This is a memoir originally written in the 1980s under the title Sing No Sad Songs. Balter was raised in an orphanage until she was 5 when she was adopted by an Italian couple (who ONLY spoke Italian, while Balter only spoke English, tough start!). They were extremely strict to the point of abuse, and especially oddly, greatly restricted her from having friends.
When Balter was sixteen or seventeen (in the 1940s) she had her first serious episode of depression and anxiety after trying to live on her own away from abusive parents. She had her first stay in a mental hospital, Danvers State Hospital (the Castle), and then spent most of the next 20 years in and out of the hospital. At this time they were often using straight jackets, wet wraps (where the body is wrapped tightly in cold towels so the person cannot move at all), and shock treatments as punishments. These treatments are controversial enough even when people genuinely think they will help, let alone simply as punishment. After being treated with massive doses of stelazine (even though it was for schizophrenics) her health suffered greatly and she began to have vivid hallucinations. She stayed in bed and didn't speak for about two years.
It's not the best piece of literary memoir ever written, but it's interesting story and an important work. Balter struggled mightily to recover and to make a life for herself, and also to continue her education until she got to the point where she could help other mentally ill people, and especially to help people transition from institutionalization.
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
Before starting this memoir I hadn't realized that Mock is only two years older than me. I largely just knew her name and that she's trans. She had a difficult childhood in a number of ways, which is maybe what helped her be brave enough to transition starting in her freshman year of high school (1997!). She was back in Hawaii at that point, with her mother, a native Hawaiian, which may have also helped (a huge number of indigenous groups have a space in their culture for a third gender or trans people, and as they deal with cleansing the effects of colonization many are reclaiming those titles, perhaps especially Polynesian groups).
It's a very well done memoir, important and well worth reading.
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
This was a pick in one of my book clubs, and I admit I really wasn't looking forward to it. Mainly this is because white, male writers seem to have a fixation on writing alternative history where slavery never ended, one way or another (or where Germany won WWII). Not that there's anything wrong with alternative history writing in itself, but I have to wonder why the main people writing these books are those with the most privilege, who are free to treat it as an intellectual exercise. Do we really need MORE books on the "slavery didn't end" theme?
That being said, the book was much better than I expected, with a lot more nuance (though the basic premise of stowing people away on airplanes seems ridiculously unfeasible, is this the future where airlines don't scan anything?). That aspect doesn't really come into things at least. It's written so there can easily be a sequel, though I'm unlikely to read one.
I'm not saying avoid this book at all costs, but I don't think this (or other similar books) actually add anything to our view of either history or current society. If your book club picks it though, you don't have to totally despair.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
A book for a different book club. Noah is most well known now for being the host of The Daily Show and well liked for the job he's doing there. I first saw him on a variety of UK panel shows, where I quite liked him. When he was announced as the host and people in the US were trying to figure out who he was, a number of fairly recent tweets came to light involving anti-semitism, homophobia, and misogyny. They weren't more than a couple years old. Noah didn't take any responsibility for them and didn't even really apologize. I hope he's wised up by now, but the non-apology aspects made me pretty certain he hadn't at that time.
That kind of continues in the book, where he feels no responsibility, or even minor guilt, for pretty serious actions. It's a mostly interesting read, but knowing what I already knew about him the pattern of "I don't need to feel sorry for anything I do," made it difficult to enjoy the good bits.
Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
A strange little novel with stories within stories. It was too topsy-turvy and experimental for my tastes, but I'll probably seek out something else by Luiselli.
This is part of the summary for the novel:
In Mexico City, a young mother is writing a novel of her days as a translator living in New York. In Harlem, a translator is desperate to publish the works of Gilberto Owen, an obscure Mexican poet. And in Philadelphia, Gilberto Owen recalls his friendship with Lorca, and the young woman he saw in the windows of passing trains.
Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant by Shrabani Basu
The last book for January's book clubs!
A good read of a fascinating history that came so close to being totally hidden. Unfortunately, it's a sparse account, largely due to the destruction of letters and writings by those surrounding the Queen after her death. Still a fascinating account, just don't go in expecting the world (or the movie...).
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
A graphic novel by a pair of cousins (Jillian is the artist). I love the art style and really liked the book. It follows a pair of friends who see each other every year when their families stay in cottages by a beach. One is a year or two younger than the other. The older one's parents aren't getting along well and her friendship is tested too as the older gets a crush on a local teen.
It really deals with the divide of childhood and teenage-hood so well, plus the limitations of a child's view of their parents (and the parents' relationship). Recommended.
Roots by Alex Haley
I have been meaning to read this classic for a long time, and I'm glad I finally got to it. I was expecting a faster journey through the generations, but pleased enough that we stayed with Kunta Kinte, the character who is kidnapped by slavers as a young man, through over half of the book.
Are there issues with Haley? Yes. Did he actually trace his ancestry back to a specific African man? Probably not. Is it still an important book which should continue to be read? Absolutely!
And now I can watch the mini-series (the original and the new one!).
Frogkisser! by Garth Nix
Very fun stand-alone novel by one of my favorite writers. We're in a fantasy land of princesses and evil step-step-fathers (they had a stepmother and then after their father dies she marries again so that's a step-step-father).
And poor Princess Anya is forced to go on a quest in order to get some more anti-transmogrification lip balm to turn some frogs back into princes. She just wants time to read, but instead has to set out with one of the castle dogs (who can talk) and a boy who was changed into a newt. Plus she's soon being called Frogkisser by one and all!
Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash
This book has roughly the same concept as Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, letters to sons about the world we live in and struggles and duties involved in fathering and just living in a world which marginalizes them.
Very good, and brought up a number of things I'd never thought of (which re-emphasizes the importance of own voices - the people in question telling their OWN stories, not being filtered through what a majority person thinks is important).
My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile by Isabel Allende
Great little memoir, just a snapshot really, covering Allende's view of and relationship with Chile. Plus a bit of how she became a novelist.
Allende is a strong personality, and I didn't always agree with her, but I loved her anyway. She is so wonderfully herself and happy about that. Recommended if you've enjoyed any of her novels.
Patternmaster by Octavia E. Butler
Butler has created a very unique world and flings the reader into it. It is her first novel, and she's definitely still feeling out her gifts. I found the world interesting, though didn't love the novel. I felt a bit too lost the whole time. I can definitely see why the rest of the series takes place prior to the events of Patternmaster, and I'm eager to read those.
The Man Who Designed the Future: Norman Bel Geddes and the Invention of Twentieth-Century America by B. Alexandra Szerlip
The title really says it all! Bel Geddes designed everything from theatrical sets (and lighting methods) to the Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair to housewares to highway design to the case for the Mark I computer. He was hampered at various stages by the fact that he did not have formal training in architecture or industrial design.
Really interesting book about an interesting figure. I got oddly excited when I realized one of his daughters was a main actress in I Remember Mama, a movie I really love.
Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier RE-READ
I've read this book so many times. This is the second in Marilliers Sevenwaters trilogy, and my favorite of that trilogy. The books advance a generation in narrator, so the protagonist of the first book is the mother of the protagonist of the second book. I admit to not always being a fan of this system as I get extremely attached to her characters and want more of them.
Her books are almost all historical fantasy, wherein the setting and people are real and the fantasy largely takes a bit of a backseat to fairly normal human concerns (love, family, loss, etc). This trilogy is a good place to start with Marillier, though keep in mind these are her first published books. Her writing is simple and this works because they're supposed to feel like oral tales. Her writing does tighten up as her books go on though.
Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran by Shirin Ebadi
Very good book, and important to help fill in a more accurate view of Iran for those of us relying on more mainstream news. Ebadi is a human rights lawyer and worked extremely hard to continue practicing in Iran, and speaking at conferences and such outside of Iran.
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck
A short and totally wonderful SF/SFF novel. Tidbeck brings you into a world without explaining it, in the way the best authors can. In this case even the characters don't totally know how their world works, they just know what their society requires them to do. It has a backdrop that is reminiscent of Soviet and communist China ideals (children raised in homes together, seeing their birth parents for only a couple days every week or two, etc...).
I absolutely loved this. Wasn't 100% sold on the ending, but it was still a fantastic read and a book I absolutely recommend.
The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
A classic of mid-century history writing, and looking back on the previous decades of war. I've read a lot about WWII, about the 1930s in various countries involved, but now I want to read the aftermath, what happened next, how did people of the time begin to process the huge range of events and catastrophes of the first half of the 20th century and further histories.
It's still an important read.
Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier RE-READ
Well I decided since I'd read the other two in January I'd try and finish out the trilogy. This used to be my lesser favorite of the three, which is unfair. It is the more complex book in many ways, with a much more complex protagonist. I appreciate it more these days (and of the audiobooks this one has the best reader).
Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson RE-READ
I needed something sweet and funny and happy, so grabbed this for a re-read. I wish my library system had some of the Moomins books, but no luck. Jansson is so funny and yet the Moomins feel so real and human. I have this first three volumes of Moomin comics
Perhaps as a loose goal for this year I'll try to read one of Jansson's adult books.
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
Originally published in 1940, the book follows Rubashov, an old Bolshevik who is arrested in the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s and held to be used for a show trial. It's a classic that informed the views of many anti-communist leftists and very much worth reading.
The Nuremberg Trial by John Tusa and Ann Tusa
In depth study of the creation and implementation of the Nuremberg trials. It includes fairly detailed information about those who were tried, the judges and lawyers, how the allied countries worked together, etc...
Well worth reading, perhaps a bit dry for some.
Black Boy (American Hunger) by Richard Wright
This memoir was initially titled American Hunger but when a publisher only wanted to publish the first part covering Wright's childhood the name was changed to Black Boy. I read the complete version.
I've been meaning to read Wright for some time, and I wanted to get to this before tackling his novels, since it's interesting to see where personal experience informs fiction. It's a very good read, and his interactions with the labor movement US Communist Party are especially interesting.
Another title that should be required reading for everyone in the USA.
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
My online book club is uniquely good at picking books I've been meaning to read, this title being another example. Aslan is focusing on history, and distinguishes Jesus of Nazareth from Jesus Christ. He brings in a lot of important details and how we know XYZ was changed, etc...
I was concerned that he brushes off authors of Biblical books publishing using the names of dead figures as a form of flattery. He doesn't go into that, but Bart D. Ehrman focuses heavily on that issue in his book Forged: Writing in the Name of God and the fact that the 'form of flattery' angle doesn't have much fact to back it up. I can't really compare the two arguments since Aslan doesn't go into it at all beyond that one sentence or two (Aslan does try to stay focused on the historical Jesus). It's something to keep in mind, however.
Interesting book, recommended if you like historical books about religion/religious figures.
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
Historical fiction based about a real person, Ella May Wiggins, a union organizer in North Carolina cotton mills in the 1920s, especially focusing in desegregating the union. She wrote lyrics for some working ballads, one of which was recorded by Pete Seeger (A Mill Mother's Lament). She was murdered in broad daylight by an armed mob. Dozens of people witnessed her killing yet the murderers were acquitted after 30 minutes of deliberation.
The book is told alternately from Ella's perspective and her daughter's decades later, telling the story to a nephew. It's pretty well done, though I didn't quite love the book. Something lacking in the union scenes, maybe. Pretty solid historical fiction though, and I basically recommend it if you like this sort of thing.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
This book... I am pretty bad at giving myself a break when a book hits too close to home. Instead of having a breather I typically decide to read the entire book in one sitting, for better or worse. Here is a partial description of this one from the author's website:
Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins an internship at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes―the moment she hears him speak of his crimes―she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.
The author was sexually abused by her grandfather for a number of years (her sister was abused as well), and while the abuse eventually stopped there are no ramifications for her abuser, and he still visits them. She is told not to talk about it.
It is an extremely well done book and I highly recommend it.
Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg RE-READ
The classics stories by Sandburg, originally published in 1922. I grew up on these, and the Maud and Miska Petersham illustrations. After the last book I needed a little taste of comfort. Sandburg was so accomplished in so many types of writing. These stories do make me wish he'd written even more for children though. They're fun and silly and bound to enchant.
Poet in Spain by Frederico Garcia Lorca
Lorca is one of my favorite poets, so I jumped at this new set of translations (the book features the translation and the original Spanish). Despite a weird decision to leave punctuation out of the translations, it seems like good work (going by my pretty rudimentary Spanish).
I enjoyed reading the Spanish originals to my cat, though I'm not sure she appreciated them.
He Died at Daybreak
Night of four moons
and only one tree,
with only one shadow
and only one bird.
I search my skin for
the mark of your lips.
The water kisses the wind
without touching it.
I have the No you gave me,
in the palm of my hand,
like a wax lemon
Night of four moons
and only one tree .
On the point of a needle,
my love spins.
Sonnet of the Sweet Lament
I'm afraid of losing the wonder
of your stony eyes and the spice
that the lonely rose of your breath
lays on my cheek at night.
I'm sorry to be here on this shore
a tree with no branches, and sorrier
to have no clay or pulp or flower,
for the worm of my suffering.
If you are my secret treasure,
if you are my cross and my wet pain,
if I am the dog of your realm,
do not let me lose what I have won
and drape the waters of your river
with the leaves of my departing autumn.
Ingredienti: Marcella's Guide to the Market by Marcella Hazan
Just as it sounds, a guide to produce, meat, and dairy written by a renowned Italian cook. Her recipe books are given much credit for introducing the USA and UK to methods of traditional Italian cooking, and she was much beloved in general as a food writer. Nice little book, especially as she validated by dislike of using dried garbanzo beans and some other little cooking habits/thoughts of mine.
Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
I learned about Judge due to one of the original Drunk History videos created by Derek Waters (get a historian seriously drunk then have them talk about a historic event which you get proper actors to reenact lip syncing the historian's exact words). Then it became a proper series and they switched from actual historians to comedians and they don't get as drunk and I prefer someone who at least knows the facts while sober.
Anyway, it's a great book. It is short, because of course there's not immense amounts of documentation about Judge's free life. It is a reminder how deluded many slave owner's allowed themselves to be. Honestly thinking that enslavement and total insecurity (in terms of being sold suddenly, families being split up, rape, etc etc) was better than a hard but free life. Yet at the same time Washington carefully timed his slaves' time spent in Philadelphia, as if they were there longer than three months they had to be freed. You just want to shake these people. Judge was told she was to be given as a gift to Martha Washington's granddaughter which prompted her flight. George Washington decided "Oh she didn't go of her own free will, a Frenchman lured her away!"
Good book, recommended especially to other Americans.
Wow. Some very serious and intriguing books there. My cats haven’t proved very receptive to poetry, either :(
March Book One by John Lewis, Nate Powell, Andrew Aydin
The three-volume set of John Lewis' graphic memoirs. This is one of those examples where comics add to the story, reminding us of the brutality handed out to Civil Rights activists in stark images. For many people it allows it to be more 'real' when they see rather than just read about these events. It also increases the reach and accessibility of Lewis' story.
I find it odd that a single volume edition hasn't been published yet, but oh well. I recommend getting all three books at once since they feed into each other. Highly recommended.
Just seconding what Eyejaybee said. Some very intriguing books and some great reviews!
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey RE-READ
Unlike most of my re-reads, this is not a favorite book. I just read it last fall or winter and only re-read it now because my book club picked it and now I'm leading the bookclub so wanted to remember the aspects of the book w hich I didn't like so that I could actually articulate them.
It's an interesting book and I like parts of it, but the magical realism elements just didn't work for me. They were fairly present but not really present enough and for me served no real purpose. Lots of people love this book so your mileage will probably vary!
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
A mid-century classic that it still pretty widely read, and arguably one of the best 20th century views of disability in children's fiction (which is a bit sad). It takes place in the middle ages and a plague is carrying off people left and right. It scares away the servants in Robin's health after he's developed severe weakness (and then paralysis, I think?) in his legs and can't go for help. Brother Luke, a friar, comes to get him and helps him recover some health and his good spirits. He helps him learn to swim with his new infirmity, gets him involved in making his own crutches, teaches him to read, etc...
Robin's parents are both away and once he's well enough Brother Luke takes him to his uncle's where he performs some page duties. There's a siege by the Welsh Robin saves the day, etc... It's very predictable but was generally quite good.
The weaknesses from a disability standpoint is that I don't believe de Angeli was basing this on a real condition, so it just feels quite arbitrary (compared to Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman, where she picked a real, from-birth, condition that's easily fixed today but couldn't be properly understood let alone fixed before the 20th century, therefore she had lots of resources on how this would feel, effect on the body, etc...). The book also skirts the edge of "can compensate for the disability so easily that there's less impact," but in general it's a pretty amazing book focused on a disability for 1949. I can easily imagine how much hope and strength and fortitude it will have brought to disabled children, and is likely still bringing them due to disability representation being so rare and often AWFUL.
The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz
This recent dystopian novel by an Egyptian writer got a lot of press. I ignored most of it and went into the book blind and without expectations. Probably wise, as I quite liked the simple and almost claustrophobic story. A friend who read lots of glowing reviews felt a bit let down that the book wasn't the immense masterpiece she felt she'd been led to expect. For me as well, the medical aspect and current (and legitimate) fears of losing my ability to pursue adequate healthcare for my nervous system disorder.
For me the book worked well. It's not a runaway 5 star read, but a solid 4. The scope is narrow, and you're never filled in on all the details of this world, but that worked for me here (it doesn't always).
Ladivine by Marie NDiaye
Another odd, strange, magical-realism book but this one worked much better for me than Faces in the Crowd or To the Bright Edge of the World, perhaps because in some ways it's more rooted in character. Three generations of women deal with their own sorrows and struggles. A large dog reappears in different guises throughout the book.
Again, I'm not totally sure why this worked when other books don't, but there we are. It's a quiet book, somewhat slow, and I've still been thinking about it though I finished it a few weeks ago.
The Gay Revolution by Lillian Faderman
A very comprehensive book on the gay rights movement in the US. It deals with key figures through their whole careers and looks separately at different aspects of the movement (specific lawsuits regarding protections in jobs, hate crimes, etc...). It also deals with the clash between more conservative and radical elements.
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
This is a memoir by one of the Polish Jews whose survival was made possible due to working of Oskar Schindler. For Leyson there is no doubt that he would not have survived otherwise, due to his age and the fact that the vast majority of children moved from ghettos to concentration camps were killed upon arrival.
Leyson's experience and view of things is of course colored by the fact that he was a child, not an adult, and I believe it's only memoir published by a child working for Schindler. Is it the best memoir of the century (or even year), no. It is a good one though and an important one.
Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers RE-READ
I keep meaning to do a chronological re-read of the Wimsey novels, but haven't quite managed it, probably because they largely don't need to be read in even remotely chronological order. So I thought I'd go back to remember the first book where Wimsey meets Harriet Vane.
This is the fifth Wimsey novel. Vane is a mystery novelist who has been living in an unmarried state with another (higher brow but less successful) writer. They split up and reasonably soon after he dies due to arsenic poisoning which she's been researching for her next novel. Wimsey attends the trial, which results in a hung jury, and wholeheartedly believes Vane to be innocent, so he takes the case. He needs to find the true culprit before the re-trial so that Vane can be guaranteed her liberty and spared the ordeal of another full trial. He's also fallen in love with Vane and repeatedly asks her to marry him.
Disordered World: Setting a New Course for the Twenty-first Century by Amin Maalouf
Like many of us, Maalouf is frustrated as the world seems to grow more and more divided despite the fact that it's even easier to see what unites us and what should make more people even more determined to work together (climate change and general humanitarian crises particularly).
This was published in 2009, and unfortunately things feel so much worse now. I'd love to see an update to this, though I wonder if he'd be able to summon the same reasonably hopeful tone.
Pam, did you ever read Thrones, Dominations, the abandoned Sayers book finished by Jill Paton Walsh. I was really impressed with it, and liked that Walsh didn't try to copy Sayers writing (which would be quite hard to do anyway), and sort of moved attitudes up a bit to how Sayers would probably have been if she'd been born later.
James, how neat to have such a close connection! Sayers wide range of writing and translating seems so special, particularly given how detective fiction was largely seen then.
The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof by Annie M.G. Schmidt
This is an odd little Dutch classic, originally published in 1970. It features a cat who has turned into a human, but she can still communicate with other cats, most of whom are very displeased with her transformation. She befriends a journalist who is about to be fired for writing too many stories about cats. So she gets all the latest news from the cats around town and passes it on. Meanwhile he tries to train her out of her most cattish traits (like rubbing her head all over the fishmonger when buying fish).
It is a really odd little book, and I'm not sure how I'd feel about it if I'd read it as a kid. I liked everything cats, but there are just some very odd elements and then this really abusive character as well. Let me know if you read it in childhood!
The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders
Does what it says on the tin. Well written wide-scale history of changing attitudes toward crime and criminals in Victorian Britain. While there's some focus on how the media influenced this, perhaps that could be more thoroughly investigated. Overall it's a great read though, and really fascinating.
I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
Despite the flippant tone and the title, mostly the things she's judging in this book (vs her blog, I guess) are things people SHOULD be judged for (racism, sexism, abusers, etc...). A good read, with some laughs. This book was written just before a number of issues would explode into even larger problems, so it's extremely timely.
Oddly, the book made me feel pretty old, even though I'm the same age as the author (I'm very much a weird, nerdy, oblivious to pop culture person though, and she seems very hip).
The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, The Epidemic That Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby
I've had Crosby's books on my to-read list for a while, particularly her Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic That Remains one of Medicine's Greatest Mysteries, but ended up reading this one first.
I didn't know much about yellow fever and found the book really well done and interesting.
Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai
Maathai is a complicated figure who went a bit odd before she died, but her work and her experience and her knowledge are so important. In this she looks at a variety of issues and how change could happen and what impedes those changes.
Very important book, highly recommended.
>62 mabith: Yes, and I quite liked it. But I thought that for Jill Paton-Walsh to impose the values/attitudes of her time was a mistake. It was jarring, because the characters are from the time and class of Dorothy L. Sayers, not JPW.
>63 Eyejaybee: I see that the DLS translation is still available on the Kindle here.
>70 pamelad: I suppose it felt more like a natural continuation of where Sayers' views might have ended up for me (well her characters' views, rather), and preferable to a bad mimicry of the originals.
Lotus by Lijia Zhang
Zhang always wanted to be a writer but had to leave school at 16 to work in a factory. Over the next ten years there she taught herself English. She was eventually able to attend multiple universities abroad to study creative writing and became a freelance journalist, memoirist ("Socialism is Great!": A Worker's Memoir of the New China), and then a novelist. This is her debut novel.
The book follows Lotus, a girl from a rural village who leaves for an industrial center to work at a factory after a friend (or perhaps cousin, I forget now) returns to the visit and promises the moon. When we meet her she is a prostitute, an illegal occupation. We learn her story gradually as she opens up to a photojournalist who is photographing the local prostitutes and wanting to extend understanding about them.
I absolutely loved the book. I found it extremely well-paced, especially for a debut novel, and well written. The characters are complex and Zhang frequently went a different direction than I was expecting, in the best kind of way. I can't wait to see what Zhang writes next.
Nada by Carmen Laforet
For some reason I can't understand this book is sometimes referenced as Spain's Catcher in the Rye, which is a huge disservice to Nada and a strange comparison since it feels like the only similarity is a teenage narrator (and Andrea is starting university). It was originally published in 1945, when Laforet was 23.
Andrea goes to Barcelona for university and is staying with her grandmother, and two uncles and aunts. The house is crumbling and her extended family is deeply dysfunctional. Andrea must navigate those relationships and her own poverty while trying to make her small stipend stretch for her needs.
It was a really interesting read and an important part of Spanish literary history. It is part of the 'tremendismo' tradition, marked by a 'tendency to emphasize violence and grotesque imagery,' and it is also considered an existentialist novel. Not a five-star read for me, but still recommended.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I was really looking forward to never ever reading this book, but then my book club picked it and I just took over leadership so felt I had to read it. I understand why people enjoy it, sort of, but reviews act like this is the best book ever. Meanwhile the "just a fun, silly book" titles that are read as feminine are endless mocked and pilloried.
The way the references of the 1980s are used is frequently in list form. It's not clever or interesting, and it reads as "look how much I know." The writing is mediocre in the extreme, repetitive, and thrives on lazy stereotypes (the two Japanese characters being some of the most egregious examples). Plus, in a world where 80s nerd knowledge is seen as supremely valuable the narrator still does the "nerds can't get laid," nonsense. The plot is very weak and the main character is completely self-centered and a total Mary Sue (a trope women are universally skewered for when they write them).
I'm happy for the people who could just revel in the references and enjoy it, as in everyone else in the book club, but I couldn't. Here are some reviews about some of the issues. They do contain spoilers. If you only read one make it the first one.
Ready Player One: Gaming, Gender, and Identity
Ready Player One is Basically Twilight for Nerds
Ready Player One: Not Worth the Read
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
I always jump at old works of non-fiction in audio form when I find them. Sometimes they bug me so much at the beginning that I don't continue them (looking at you, Walden and the 'poor people don't appreciate the gifts of being poor like richer people can' nonsense).
Wollstonecraft is writing to try to change the mind of people set against women's rights, and of course that shows in the writing and her arguments. It is apologetic and denigrates anything seen as frivolous, as if you can't be picky about clothing and morals simultaneously.
Still, I think it's worth reading.
My Several Worlds by Pearl S. Buck
A less old non-fiction book, this memoir was published in 1954, when she would have been extremely worried about never seeing China again (though probably not totally hopeless yet).
I am a big fan of Buck, and I believe she is extremely underrated today, and whatever you think of her novels her life is fascinating. She was not a woman of extreme views, but one who always tried to see many sides of issues, a side effect of her parents views and the traditional Chinese tutor she had as a child. She did not trust the rising Communist forces in China but she acknowledged why the average peasant was on their side and the grave mistakes the Nationalists made. She truthfully faced the mistakes and abuses of the western forces in China's history. Above all she loved China, but began to realize after the Boxer Uprising that she would probably never be seen as a true citizen there.
Even if you don't want to read her novels (though I highly recommend reading The Good Earth and Pavillion of Women, at least), I recommend this book. Buck is worth remembering.
Nobody's Perfect by Donald E. Westlake RE-READ
This is the fourth book in the Dortmunder series, and in some ways a particularly silly one.
Dortmunder is in jail charged with burglary. It will be his third strike, meaning he will be locked up for life if found guilty, which of course he will be because that's how Dortmunder's life is and his public defender can't even manage to open his own briefcase. Suddenly in sweeps one of the highest paid lawyers in the city to get him out of difficulty... for a price (this all happens in the first chapter). Dortmunder must steal a painting for an insurance scheme, but as is usual some things go wrong...
If you want to laugh, this book series is for you. They're some of the funniest books I've ever read, and the first nine especially are pretty much all favorites that I've been re-reading for decades. The Hot Rock is the first book, but starting with it, Bank Shot, Why Me?, or Good Behavior are equally good.
How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana
Uwiringiyimana grew up as part of a marginalized group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While living in a refugee camp it was attacked, and her family separated. Uwiringiyimana believed everyone had been killed, but as the victims of the attack regrouped they found it was just her little sister who was lost.
Eventually they (and other victims of the attack) were brought to the US, where it's frankly criminally negligent how they were treated. Taken to a random city where there was no one who spoke their language and no steps were even taken to help them learn English and certainly no one helped them process the traumas they had been there.
The memoir is beautiful and powerful and recommended. It does not portray a simple upward trajectory, but the struggle of trauma that hasn't been properly dealt with and the issues of statelessness.
The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls
This was a fascinating read about an interesting and extremely misunderstood subject. The book covers Rorschach of course but it goes far beyond following the test itself, its rise and fall in popularity and the general misunderstanding of its usefulness.
Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson
Finally read another Moomin book! This was the second published (in Finland, the English pub order is different) and it's not quite as perfect for me as Finn Family Moomintroll, but was very enjoyable and a single narrative vs a number of events. This book also explains (in a children's novel kind of way) why the Snorks look exactly like the Moomins but aren't called Moomins, which had been bothering me.
The Moomin world is such a fun one, and brings me a lot of joy.
The Crusades by Zoe Oldenbourg
A mid-century non-fiction classic, a type of book I'm always interested in, particularly those written by women. Women historians have a hard enough time today, let alone then. I don't know enough to know how accurate this book still is, but it was well written and interesting all the way through. Maybe a bit dry for people who don't read a lot of history or who stick to the more popular history format.
The Lost Peg Leg Mine by Carl Barks
Touchstone isn't turning out well, but this is volume 18 of the The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library (for Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories only). Currently volumes 5-18 are out, as they've been publishing them to get the best loved/known period of his work out first. I grew up on these comics, when various groups were reprinting them (Dell, Gladstone, etc...) along with newer works by other artists and writers.
Each volume goes in chronological order, but the years over lap some as each volume is roughly the same number of pages (so this volume has stories from 1956, 1957, and 1958). Each also includes an introduction and a a short little essay on each story by different Duck fans/scholars. Taking up so much shelf space as I must have them all and these kinds of collections are rarely reprinted.
No super memorable exciting stories in this volume, but they're all still a lot of fun.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
One of those reads where I went in expecting to really enjoy the book, but in the end found it lacking.
It's set in Burma between the 1950s and the present. Julie's father has disappeared without word and she and her mother don't know where to look until they find a love letter sent from Burma. Julia flies there to attempt to find him or the woman the letter was from.
For me the book just didn't go anywhere or serve any purpose and it didn't have beautiful prose or important psychological observations either. Not of horrible read, but not really a good one either.
Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova
Kassabova grew up in Bulgaria, leaving with her family for New Zealand when she was 16 or 17 or so. After brief stays in western Europe she settled in Scotland. This book recounts her journey back to Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey, the mixed populations of the region, the history, and the struggles.
Really interesting book, and very well done.
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This book collects essays Coates wrote During President Obama's years in office, each preceded by notes on the essay, sometimes including self-criticism, often talking about reactions to the piece.
It's fantastic to have these works compiled in one place and held under the lens of the Obama presidency.
If you don't want to read the whole book, at least read his essay My President Was Black. It's long, but extremely worthwhile.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
This is epic fiction with autobiographical elements covering the years the author spent in India after escaping from prison in Australia. He is living there illegally, constantly afraid of being found out.
This book is almost 1000 pages long, and I don't think it needed to be. The plots are mostly isolated, random little bits. There's sort of a connecting thread through some things but for 1000 pages it should be more concrete, it should feel like it has some meaning or actually takes you somewhere.
There are good things about the book, there are philosophical snippets that I just loved, and the main character's learning process in regards to India, poverty, work, etc... That's not enough for a book of this length though. The author was captured in Germany and returned to prison in Australia, where the manuscript for this book was destroyed several times as he was writing it. Which, I feel like you can tell that as a reader. I also feel like you can tell a publisher went "the backstory of the real life escape, etc is enough to make this a bestseller, why bother with editors and feedback." That may be unfair, but it's how the book felt to me personally.
Adam Bede by George Eliot
This is Eliot's first novel, published when she was 40. It's damned impressive for a first novel, though I wonder if later in her career she'd ended it differently. Not all characters end happily, but it's a bit pat compared to Middlemarch.
Adam Bede is a local carpenter, greatly admired in the district. Dinah Morris and Hetty Sorrel are orphaned nieces of the Poyser family, fairly well off farmers. Dinah is a Methodist preacher and Hetty is a very pretty but vain and frivolous young woman. Adam is in love with Hetty and his brother Seth is in love with Dinah. Throw in the grandson of the local squire, secret loves, deaths, etc... and you've got the makings of a lot of drama.
The emphasis on realism and the psychological insight is part of what makes Eliot appeal to me so much, in addition to her brilliant writing style. Even the long works just fly by.
>90 bryanoz: Definitely! Always curious about favorites by the classic authors (esp. when they didn't leave us that many novels). I remember I asked on someone's thread a couple years ago, because I was a picking an Eliot to read for a book club and wasn't sure what to go for first. I think basically everyone had a different favorite.
Some years ago I had an 'Eliot' year, reading her novels and shorter story collection Scenes of Clerical Life.
I had already read Middlemarch and enjoyed it so reading her other novels in order was a pleasure.
Felix Holt, the Radical is a intriguing read as the author turns her discerning eye to social and political reforms of the time.
>92 tess_schoolmarm: Tess, The Miss on the Floss was the first I read by her. I was so enchanted by her ability to surprise even within the Victorian literary strictures.
>93 bryanoz: Bryan, I'll be very eager to read Felix Holt then, as social and political issues in Elizabeth Gaskell's work is part of what drew me to her novels but it hasn't been so present in what I've read by Eliot so far.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston RE-READ
Loved this book the first time around, loved it this time. Janie is one of the fictional characters I've related to more (I don't really relate books to myself that much, it's just... not how my brain works). For me the book is a profound treatise on love, how it differs between people, different types of love, etc...
It's a wonderful work, and if you haven't read it yet I highly recommend it.
Circe by Madeline Miller
I really liked Miller's first novel, The Song of Achilles, but I absolutely LOVED Circe. It hit all my sweet spots and I think in general the story is more interesting than Achilles and Patroclus and the war and all.
In general mythology Circe is a nymph/witch/sorceress daughter of Helios (sun titan) and Perse (ocean nymph). She becomes adept at using herbs and potions, and transformations (there's a lot of turning dudes into pigs). Miller treats her story so well, and it's just a brilliant book.
In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib
This was a book club read, and one of my suggestions, and I'm happy to say most of the club enjoyed it. The author, who was born and raised in Egypt (leaving when she was 23), also resides in my own state, West Virginia, which made it that much more special.
It is not a happy book. The Al-Menshawy family has lost their eldest son, and we learn that he killed the neighbor's daughter before killing himself. The family is reeling, attempting to figure out motives and reasons and how to fit back into their city again.
If you need firm resolutions and to end a book knowing all the answers this may not be a title for you. I think Hassib did a very good job though, and I liked the way the book was constructed and written. It felt very genuine and realistic.
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
A classic I've neglected for too long. If you tried to read Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery and just couldn't get past the ameliorating tone (most slaveholders were perfectly nice, etc), then try Du Bois.
Required reading for all in the USA, and a good read on top of it.
Off the Shelf: A Celebration of Bookshops in Verse edited by Carol Ann Duffy
Wonderful little poetry collection sent to me by a friend. Nice read, and obviously a perfect gift for a book (and poetry) lover.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
This memoir details Jacobs' life as a slave in North Carolina, her years in hiding near the plantation, her escape to the north, and her life there. The book was written under a pseudonym to protect her family and those helping her, and for years it was believed to be a novel written by a white abolitionist. The scholarship of Jean Fagan Yellin helped to prove the true author and show the work Jacobs did for the abolitionist movement.
The memoir is the one which gave us the phrase "far more terrible for women," in reference to the impact of slavery. It is certainly written for the white audience, particularly white women. Jacobs wanted to impress the fact that the typical view of a woman's place and needs was impossible under slavery, and to claim black womanhood as womanhood undifferentiated from white womanhood. Recommended.
As always, some fascinating books here, Meredith. I took a huge book bullet with Circe.
The Gulag Archipelago Vol. 3 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Finally all finished with this epic work. It is an amazing piece of writing, and incredibly valuable. This volume focuses a lot on Solzenitsyn's own place and time and imprisonment and the life of 'exiles' who are nominally freed from the camp but frequently then placed in an even worse position.
All three volumes are about 2000 pages, and worth every word, in my opinion. However, the abridged version was abridged by the author, and I'd recommend that if the page count is scaring you off. I think it's still a valuable perspective that you don't get as fully from modern books. Solzhenitsyn is, of course, also just a fantastic writer. None of the books felt particularly long, due partly to the quality of the writing.
The Backwash of War by Ellen N. La Motte
This is an amazing work. La Motte is righteous with anger and the book is full to the brim with bitter sarcasm. This is a tone you don't see that often in WWI memoirs, particularly those written while the war was going on. She was one of the first American war nurses to work on the continent, and had this published in 1916. It was quickly suppressed after the USA entered the war and wasn't republished until 1934.
"A rose is a fine rose because of the manure you put at its roots. You don't get a medal for sustained nobility. You get it for the impetuous action of the moment, an action quite out of keeping with the trend of one's daily life. You speak of the young aviator who was decorated for destroying a Zeppelin single-handed, and in the next breath you add, and he killed himself, a few days later, by attempting to fly when he was drunk. So it goes. There is a dirty sediment at the bottom of most souls. War, superb as it is, is not necessarily a filtering process, by which men and nations may be purified. Well, there are many people to write you of the noble side, the heroic side, the exalted side of war. I must write you of what I have seen, the other side, the backwash. They are both true."
"Since he had failed-in the job, his life must be saved, he must be nursed back to health, until he was well enough to be stood up against a wall and shot."
“I was mobilized against my inclination. Now I have won the Medaille Militaire. My captain won it for me. He made me brave. He had a revolver in his hand.”
"He had performed no special act of bravery, but all mutilés are given the Croix de Guerre, for they will recover and go back to Paris, and in walking about the streets of Paris, with one leg gone, or an arm gone, it is good for the morale of the country that they should have a Croix de Guerre pinned on their breasts."
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
I finished this about two days before news came that this serial rapist and killer had been caught (due to a match to a relative on a DNA ancestry site). It was quite surreal, and interesting to be able to learn some details while the case was so fresh in my mind.
It's a well done book, particularly the parts totally written by McNamara. She died with the manuscript unfinished (though many parts complete written by her) and it was finished from her notes and articles on the case. This man was one of the most prolific serial rapists the USA has seen, but was not well known outside the areas he struck most. It is unclear whether or not he had a compulsion to kill or began killing only because of some close call escapes in order to give himself more time. The case is also a really interesting time capsule of the history of DNA as used in criminal investigation.
Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun
This is a novella about the life of Hans Ertl, after his move to Bolivia. Ertl worked on several Leni Riefenstahl productions and was Rommel's preferred cameraman. He was also a mountaineer. In Bolivia he attempted to make several expedition films of ascents there. His daughter, Monika Ertl, was involved in the guerilla movement in Bolivia and it's thought that she shot Roberto Quintanilla in Hamburg.
It's a really interesting subject for historical fiction, but met my frequent issue with novellas. I wanted a much longer book. Looking back though, I find it improving in my mind, and perhaps a longer work wouldn't have had enough facts to work with and would have strayed too much. An interesting one, in any case, and my first book by a Bolivian author.
The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal
Another novella by a South American writer (Argentina, this time). Juan Salvatierra was a mute artist, who worked on huge rolls of canvas to create a single painting over a kilometer long. After his death his children are trying to interest the art world in the painting. They notice that one roll is missing, and decide to look for it.
Not a bad read, but also not a book I absolutely loved. I think it can be hard to write a novella that feels complete and full enough for me. This one had a more traditional rise and fall to the plot, but I'm not sure it's left much impression on me.
Tess, I'll be curious to see how you find it! I feel like I struggle with novellas in a similar way to how I struggle with short stories. I'm devoted to character development and it can be so much harder in a short work.
I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years 1942-1945/To the Bitter End by Victor Klemperer
It seems that initially this second volume of diaries was titled To the Bitter End but more recently was changed to the title of the first volume (1933-1941), sometimes with a "volume 2" sometimes just showing the different years.
This is a technically a reread for me, but the first time was way back in middle school, so doesn't really count. It's a very important document, of course, though can be repetitive due to the nature of diaries and the fact that pages had to be taken to friends for hiding. While Klemperer's diaries are supremely valuable, he is not always a likeable person. It feels like he has some issues with internalized anti-Semitism, and frequently does the same things he criticizes others for (we all do at times, of course, but in this kind of work it's very evident). I will be trying to read the other volumes before too long as well (there is a later one, 1945-1959, The Lesser Evil).
The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan
This memoir by a North Korean defective who spent half his childhood in a gulag for political 'dissidents,' was originally published in France in 2000. This is before the larger tide of memoirs by North Koreans and before the larger studies like Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.
It's an interesting difference from a lot of the books published now, because the author's paternal grandparents moved the family to North Korea from Japan, where they were quite well off. His grandmother was a committed communist, and of course the promises made to lure people to the country weren't kept. When any actual or perceived crime was committed the family of the criminal was also imprisoned, and this happened when the author was about 9. His grandfather was taken who knows where, and the rest of the family was taken to a camp, minus his mother whose father or grandfather was a well-regarded revolutionary. Before this they'd been living a relatively privileged life. The Bulk of the book is about life in the camp, and how that experience more than anything else disillusioned him about Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of 'Joe' Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water by Kate Summerscale
This is the book that started Summerscale's non-fiction writing career. Carstairs god-daughter sent a letter to the Daily Telegraph that ended up on Summerscale's desk. She'd seen the notice of Carstairs' death in the paper and thought her godmother a good subject for an obituary. She included a number of newspaper articles, and when Summerscale looked up Carstairs in the Telegraph's libraries she found a heap of notices on her racing career in the 1920s (establishing herself as the fastest woman on water, always dressed in men's clothing). Then articles about Carstairs' buying and transforming of an island in the Bahamas.
Carstairs was an absolutely fascinating character. Plenty of flaws, and maybe not someone I'd enjoy being around, but just fascinating. Summerscale must have moved with speed to track down people who'd known Carstairs, who was born in 1900 and died in 1993. She drove ambulances in WWI and in post-war Ireland, she started a car touring company with friends, she commissioned and raced motorboats, she had scores of girlfriends, and she bought the island, Whale Cay. (Her maternal grandfather was a founding partner of Standard Oil, if you're wondering where the money was coming from.)
Highly recommended. A shortish book, but well done.
Maurice by E.M. Forster
This book was written in 1913-14, but Forster did not seek to publish it during his life. It was published within about a year of his death.
The book follows Maurice started at age 14 as he's about to leave prep school for public school. A teacher is informing him about sex and marriage so he won't be hopelessly misinformed by older boys at the school or get into trouble or whatnot. He feels very separate from the idea of marriage and being with a woman. We follow him through to Cambridge where he falls in love with Clive.
I was reminding myself of Forster's details and came across a, to me, puzzling little item. Some sources state this book was inspired by poet Edward Carpenter's relationship with George Merrill (a working class man from the slums of Sheffield). Only that aspect comes in very near the end. It sort of feels like it was put forth because Merrill was much more "out" and to draw attention away from Forster's own homosexuality. The largest part of the book seems to me drawn from Forster's own life and experiences (or at least no less so than Carpenter's).
Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy
Tweedy was a medical student at Duke in the mid 1990s, and the subtitle really says it all. The style is very introspective, appropriate to someone who eventually made psychiatry their specialty. The book is very well written, and an important read for anyone.
I'm not capable of doing a very nuanced review right now, so here's this:
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman
This is a collection of essays and articles written by Feynman, from a range of dates and an extreme range of subjects. There's some classic Los Alamos stuff, articles about teaching science, and some pretty technical writing as well.
Mostly fun, interesting, though plenty of sexism.
The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila
Sometimes I read older non-fiction simply because it's there, and can be difficult to find on audio. Teresa of Avila eventually became St. Teresa of Avila. She was a reformer of the Carmelite order of nuns, working to bring them back to older, more ascetic habits (inspired by the Desert Fathers and Mothers and other hermit-like groups).
In this book she's talking about the paths of prayer and meditation and such like. She's very clear on the "if you think God is speaking directly to you then you're probably wrong and just want attention."
It was an interesting, but not an amazing read. I am not religious myself, but I do enjoy reading books about religion and by religious people.
Trumpet by Jackie Kay
There are some interesting echos of Kay's own life here. The main couple consists of a black father and white mother, as did Kay's parents. Their child was adopted, as was Kay. The similarities end there, but I like when authors use everything they know to make a book more convincing. Kay published three books of poetry before this, her first novels.
Joss and Millie get together and Joss reveals he's transgender. In their life together, and in his career as a jazz musician, he passes as male and it isn't until his death that people find out he was assigned female at birth. Their adopted son, Colman, particularly struggles with this, feeling angry that he was never told, even as an adult. The book changes character many times, revealing different aspects of Millie's and Joss' life together, people reactions after his death, and their memories of him.
Very good book, well done.
War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans
When I find an audiobook by a Flemish Belgian author I'm required to read it to appease a Flemish Belgian friend (Francophone Belgians just don't count as much).
This is largely historical fiction. A grandson has his grandfather's memoirs and is going through them, perhaps preparing them to publish. So there are brief bits of him narrating which then switches his grandfather's perspective. One dominant focus of the book is WWI, which his father served in. It was interesting to have a Belgian perspective, as those early days of attempting to defend Belgium aren't covered as often in fiction (not fiction that's easily available in English, anyway).
It was a good book, but not a great book for me.
Kokoda by Paul Ham
I really liked Ham's book 1914: The Year the World Ended, so quickly put all of his books on my to-read list. The organization of it, and the way he brought in perspectives and quotes just worked SO well, and it's one of the best WWI-focused histories I've read.
Kokoda refers to Kokoda track/trail which runs through the Owen Stanley mountain range in Papua New Guinea. The book is about the WWII campaign to prevent the Japanese from taking Port Moresby. It was almost exclusively fought by Australian forces, and initial battles involved the rawest of militia men. Again, Ham constructs the book very well (especially as this was his first), and tracked down quotes and statements from a huge variety of people. There are some fascinating and little remembered things in this book, like the fact that Australia had far stricter censorship rules, regarding the war, than any other Allied country.
This book also appealed because my grandfather was stationed in Papua New Guinea towards the end of the war (long after the fighting, he was signal corps and wasn't supposed to be overseas at all due to the army lying about his horrendous eyesight so they could have his telephone systems expertise training folks on the home front, but the note in his file got lost and he wasn't about to remind anyone).
Very highly recommended.
Bismarck: The Man and Statesman by A.J.P. Taylor
Another slightly random older non-fiction pick. I could have sworn I'd read something else by Taylor, but it's not showing up on my records. It would be interesting to compare with a very recent book on Bismarck.
An interesting read. Not a masterpiece, and I don't know how it holds up with modern research, but I know a lot more basics about mid-to-late 19th century Germany now, which isn't a bad thing.
The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman RE-READ
Cushman is one of my childhood obsession authors, but I've only read this book once or twice before. I say *only* once or twice, because in late grade school and throughout middle school I was a slightly shifting list of about twenty books that I got out of the library and read without fail every single month. I read new books as well but this list I just wanted to imprint on my heart. I can still see my mom shaking her head about it. Only the library didn't have much Cushman and my main re-read of hers was a book I owned.
She writes really solid historical fiction for children and young adults. She does not sugar coat the past, she does not create characters who seem simply transplanted from modern times, and she doesn't leave out any of the filth. In this book Alice was an orphan wandering from place to place begging or stealing food, and sleeping in dung heaps for warmth. She finds a sort of welcome with a midwife. She isn't given much, and certainly isn't made a proper apprentice, but it's better than sleeping in dung heaps... The book is set in the earlyish medieval period in England.
The way it ends I can see both sides of "bad message for children" and "realistic portrayal of options and how young non-family members were treated," but lean toward liking it (and love the rest of the book). Cushman is good at getting in those little facts that build a picture, like the way bread was over-yeasted so it looked larger but was mostly air, or watering down beer, plus the difference between the theater of midwifery (in that period) and the more practical aspects. I was a history-mad child, and Cushman helped me keep that by giving me interesting stories and great women/girl characters.
Theater Shoes/Curtain Up by Noel Streatfeild RE-READ
The shoes books are family favorites, but I didn't actually read any of them as kids. The editions we had were printed in the 1980s and had the worst covers, most of which were so stereotypically girly that I steered clear. Which is SUCH a shame, because they're great books and only the first is lacking in strong boy characters.
In this one three children have been staying with their grandfather (well, they go to boarding school so they're only there in the holidays) as the war is on and they can't visit their father overseas (I forget now if a specific country is mentioned, but maybe Singapore). He is reported missing by the Navy and that's a worry, but then their grandfather dies and they're suddenly uprooted and sent their maternal grandfather who they've never met before. That side of the family is all in the theater and they're expected to go to a theatrical school, which is obviously unacceptable.
As usual, Streatfeild's children are realistic and struggle, but they're also resourceful and know they can't just count on adults to do everything.
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi RE-READ
Another re-read, this one for my online book club. These are Satrapi's graphic memoirs on her childhood in and out of Iran.
Really valuable read, and was good to go back to it, fifteen years after first US publication. It's one of the graphic memoirs that started the tide, and I love her artwork. While it can seem very static she's able to get wonderful movement into the work when it's necessary.
>126 mabith: Streatfield was one of my favorite authors growing up. I must have lucked out in the cover department -- I probably would have avoided anything too "girly" also.
>128 LShelby: Reprints of older children's books tend to really suffer in that regard, at least in the US. My dad was a librarian all my childhood, and I devoted my short working life to a bookstore, judging by covers usually works pretty well - except for reprints. My childhood had lots of great books in it, and I love them as an adult, but would have been nice to get them at the 'right' age.
Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill
I am basically the target audience for this book. I collect etiquette and advice books, and I love to poke fun at them (and quite like Victorian novels). It's one of those reads where I want to contact the author and beg to be best friends.
The book takes on specific subjects and quotes from a variety of books published at the time. It doesn't try to stick to one specific part of the Victorian era, but does tell you when the books quoted were published and such. It also deals with romantic assumptions about the period very well.
Very fun, fairly informative (though not a book going into great depth), recommended if you like this sort of humorous book.
Becoming Unbecoming by Una
This is a graphic memoir about the author's childhood in Yorkshire, and also about the serial kill Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper. During the time that he was active and being learned about, the author was sexually assaulted multiple times through childhood. The book deals with this amidst a broader picture of life for girls at the time, the labels of 'slut' and 'slag' and how they effect girls and are used to silence sexual assault.
Very well done, and I really like the style of art she employs. The stories intertwine well, and make sense together. She goes into the police investigation of Sutcliffe and also her struggles after leaving school. She's a remarkable woman, and still living and working in Yorkshire to help and educate others.
It really is! She handles the two aspects of the book really well, and I imagine it would have even more impact for people from the UK.
The Hospital Always Wins by Issa Ibrahim
This is a rough book, in many ways. Ibrahim began to show symptoms of schizophrenia in late adolescence and his symptoms were made were due to marijuana use (though honestly, it would likely have gotten worse anyway). Ibrahim suffered a break with reality, and convinced that his mother was possessed, tried to exorcise her. As he panicked and tried to hold her so he could think, he knelt on her chest and killed her.
His insanity plea was accepted and he spent the next twenty years in a psychiatric hospital. The book is told in two streams. The beginning of his stay in psychiatric facilities moving forward to his release, and the story of his personal mental health and family life starting in childhood and moving forward to the death of his mother.
The book is not long, and you don't really get a sense of the twenty years spent inside. Though, this is common with institutionalization. Without a schedule, without meaning to days and months that pass the sense of time is altered. I've certainly found that since becoming disabled.
An interesting book. Maybe not a favorite one for the year, but then I read a lot of books!
Phoenix Rising by Karen Hesse RE-READ
One of my constant re-reads throughout middle school. I obsessively read Hesse's novels after reading Letters from Rifka in third or fourth grade.
This book takes place after a large nuclear accident, similar to (maybe not quite as bad as, it's hard to tell) Chernobyl, centered around Massachusetts. The narrator, Nyle, lives on a sheep farm with her grandmother. They haven't yet had to cull any sheep (unlike some family members) but there are worries about what wind shifts will bring and the future is very uncertain. Their lives are even more uprooted after Gran brings two evacuees, one with fairly serious radiation sickness, to stay with them.
It's a pretty short book, and sometimes feels like the pacing is off, but it's a good introduction to the idea and deals with some important themes.
"All the Real Indians Died Off": And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
The title kind of says it all with this one. The book is straight forward, helpful, and really informative. It talks about controversies and deals with the fact that of course not everyone agrees on all counts.
Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind by Srini Pillay
A really fascinating popular science book about the importance of letting the mind wander, in a deliberate way (vs the spacing out we might do while anxious, thinking of everything that can go wrong).
It builds on the fact that in office work there seems to be a set amount of time that people can really focus for. Important work, especially for anyone involved in creative work or work that requires a very deep focus. Some aspects reminded me of Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.
Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Pena
A wonderful graphic biography of Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide. Written by Quintero (of Gabi, a Girl in Pieces fame) and illustrated by Pena. It includes some of Iturbide's actual photographs, and ink renderings of them as well. The book is just really beautiful and fascinating. A great work.
My brother's mother-in-law sent this to me for my birthday. It was so incredibly thoughtful, done due to my mother's death last September. My brother is so lucky in his in-laws.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
I have a theory that book titles with commas in them are usually great reads. Granting this is largely born of Evie Wyld's two novels.
I really loved this poet, lyrical, magical realist novel. It deals with themes that are incredibly common in my area - grandparents raising grandchildren due to their children's drug habits (or just not wanting to be parents, or jail time). Children watching their parents fade away, giving themselves to completely destructive forces, whether that's addiction or involvement in abusive relationships. Children feeling totally responsibly for younger siblings because their parents aren't there.
This was a book club read, and I'm surprised that most of the rest of the book club really liked it. The writing was beautifully done, and the magical realist elements largely worked for me. I'm even more excited to read Salvage the Bones now, since I know many people prefer it to this novel.
Voices From the Second World War edited by Candlewick Press
My review is a dissent from the others for this Early Reviewer title. It is a book targeting children, middle-grade/juvenile level. It is broken up into sections with different people involved in WWII talking about their experiences, both on the home front and around the world, and from a variety of ages. Many of them are specifically narrated to children (relations or random school children).
However, the selection of voices is homogeneous. The focus is British, yet there are almost no (I think literally no, but I don't have the energy to check through every page again) people from the Commonwealth represented. Yet there are numerous Americans quoted. There are also precious few pages devoted to the Holocaust, representing a very narrow range of experience. Some of them are taken up with a member of a host family speaking for one of the Kindertransport (or similar) children, though this person was only born in 1940 and many of those children are still alive to tell their own stories. There is also an implication that Alan Turing killed himself simply because he was gay, with no mention of the persecution of the government and his chemical castration (and that bit written by someone who has generally opposed gay rights).
It is possible that the publisher was just lazy in putting this together. I don't know. There is some merit in the book, but it could have been so much better. Just because a book is intended for children doesn't mean it needs to be narrow or that the standard is lower. Indeed, the standard should be higher, especially because children tune out of enjoying history at this age. Not recommended.
I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali
This book came out in 2010, it's brief written by Ali with a French publisher, it what feels like a fairly authentic voice (it's a bit twee in some bits, but some children are, of course). It details Nujood's childhood and forced marriage to a much older man at age nine or ten. Marriages that young are illegal unless the husband agrees not to consummate the union until the bride is older. This was not abided by in Ali's case and she was repeatedly raped and beaten. Her father's second wife advised her to go directly to court and ask the judge for a divorce.
This was granted, but post book Ali's life has not gone the way she (or anyone) would have hoped. The publisher had no choice but to give installments of money to her father, and while she was initially back in school she was quickly out again, with not enough money trickling down to her and her siblings from their father plus demands put upon her by family to try to get more money. She married again when she was 15 or 16.
However, she did inspire other children trapped in abusive marriages to seek help from the courts. It's important that this book exists, and I hope that somewhere down the line she writes another (she's only 20-ish now).
>115 mabith: I was reminding myself of Forster's details and came across a, to me, puzzling little item. Some sources state this book was inspired by poet Edward Carpenter's relationship with George Merrill (a working class man from the slums of Sheffield). Only that aspect comes in very near the end. It sort of feels like it was put forth because Merrill was much more "out" and to draw attention away from Forster's own homosexuality. The largest part of the book seems to me drawn from Forster's own life and experiences (or at least no less so than Carpenter's).
I got the impression that Forster admired Merrill and Carpenter for their bravery and lack of hypocrisy, and even though he couldn't take the same path,
>143 pamelad: I agree totally. I just find anyone saying the book is "based on" Merrill and Carpenter annoying. Knowing them encouraged him to write it, sure, but it's the "based on" issue that's off-base. When the book was published in the 1970s it's not like acceptance of gay existence, let alone rights, was remotely universal, and literary analysts and critics still have their own agendas that can color what they write.
Truckers by Terry Pratchett RE-READ
A comfort re-read, though I timed it poorly so the second book is still on hold.
These are non-Discworld children's fantasy books, about the Nomes. Some wild Nomes looking for a new home have stumbled into some department store Nomes, some of whom don't believe in Outside. However, the store is closing and will be demolished, so a few Nomes must convince the others and find a way to leave safely.
Very funny and very human, as always with Pratchett. The religion the store Nomes have cobbled together based on the runnings of the store and the signs, is particularly amusing. The beneficent goddess, Bargains Galore, and the hateful demon Prices Slashed.
Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska
Originally published in 1925, this seems to be the most available and most studied work by the author. Yezierska and her family immigrated to the US from Poland when she was 10. She dreamed of being a writer for some time while working difficult jobs and going to school at night.
This is very similar to the protagonist in Bread Givers, the youngest daughter in an Orthodox Jewish family. Her father refuses to help support the family and instead studies the Torah and expects his daughters to work and hand over their wages. As such he makes demands of his older daughters' suitors which cannot be met and then marries them off to other much unsuitable men. The title refers to the useless men who see themselves as bread givers but in reality live off their wives' work and enterprise.
A classic I hadn't heard of until recently. I enjoyed it and found it well worth reading.
Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis
This has been on my to-read list for some time, but it's quite long and I was weary of Wade Davis due to having to read The Serpent and the Rainbow in high school for class. Also I think Everest-Climbing and similar ventures to be ridiculous. And Mallory, that man... You have a wife and child you purport to greatly love but you risk your life merely to get to the top of something? Merely to conquer a bit of nature? Over and Over! What a way to treat your family.
The connections between the men involved and the arrangements with various governments and the men's various WWI histories was very interesting and the book is well written. Grumble grumble grumble.
It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright
I great enjoyed Wright's book Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them, read towards the end of last year. I would like to be best friends with Wright. Perhaps me, her, and Therese Oneill (what wrote Unmentionable could become cool drinking buddies who collection odd, old books and don't mind the grisly things. A person can dream.
The book is funny, and light, and full of the fabulous tidbits you want in a humorous popular history work.
Iraq + 100: Stories From Another Iraq edited by Hassan Blasim
Blasim solicited Iraqi writers to try their hand at science fiction and write stories set 100 years after the US invasion. These are not writers who regularly write (or perhaps even read) science fiction. I'm also not sure how many are usually short story authors. So what I'm getting at is the collection is very uneven. There were a few more interesting stories but most of them had issues (for me) with pacing and with balance (the "it's future tech!" mostly felt forced).
Wolfskin by Juliet Marillier RE-READ
A favorite book by a favorite author, newly released in an audio edition. It starts out with Vikings in Norway and a young boy, Eyvind, who wants to be part of the elite warrior group, the Wolfskins. He has to befriend an odd boy, Somerled, who sometimes worries him. They are both eventually included on a voyage to rumored islands (Orkney) to help potentially start a settlement. But the leader, Somerled's brother Ulf, is killed and the previously good relations turn sour. The focus switches between Eyvind and Nessa, a local girl who is part of the ruling family and a future priestess.
Historical viking stuff, certainly not perfectly accurate, but I care not! I love this book. Marillier does have a fondness for the Picts, and why not. She has a real gift for wrapping you up in her characters and they always feel realistic. Her books are historical fantasy but with the emphasis on historical vs on the fantasy.
The Neanderthals Rediscovered: How Modern Science is Rewriting Their Story by Dimitra Papagianni and Michael A. Morse
A great little book for getting you up to date on current research and findings about neanderthals, plus background of past ideas.
Short, but that's good. They're not writing the be-all end-all book, because that's impossible. I appreciate the spareness and the clearness about where some ideas have come from, plus the limitations of the field.
Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America by Linda Lawrence Hunt
Interesting popular history about Estby, women's rights, and how she took a huge risk to attempt to secure her family's future. An anonymous woman said she would put up $10,000 for any women who walked across the US, to prove a point about women's capabilities. Estby and her daughter took up this challenge. The book covers the walk, what led Estby to do it, and the aftermath.
Really good, interesting work.
The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek
This is a book about Golabek's mother's experience during WWII. As a teenager she was taken to England through the kindertransport program. Initially sent out into the country to be a maid, she soon made her way back to London and ended up on Willesden Lane, in a house with a large group of teenagers and children in similar circumstances.
This book brings up the experience of the end of the war coming, but young people who'd been sent away having no real knowledge of the camps. Suddenly being confronted with the images of the liberation of the camps, after years without hearing from family in Europe.
It's an important book. And again, as with some other asylum books, why we ever think it's appropriate to strand people in pockets where they will always be the Other, where there's no support from their fellows. How could we ever take people out of desperate circumstances and put them in situations where they barely (or don't) know the language, where they have no religious or national support.
Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War by Svetlana Alexievich
This is (as far as I can tell) Alexievich's third oral history work. The title refers to the zinc coffins the soldiers were returned in.
While the audio edition of this one isn't done as well as some of her other works, it's a very well done book, and an important read.
The Stranger by Albert Camus RE-READ
Re-read now to prep for The Meursault Investigation. I read this in high school when I was devouring existentialist works (until I stopped because Sartre's short stories were honestly giving me suicidal ideations). I haven't thought about it much since then, except to consider the differences between Camus' and Sartre's upbringings and views.
It was interesting to have a re-read. It's such a flat book, and I find Meursault so awful and pointless. There were some good essays at the end of the book (or the beginning, I forget now), involving existentialism and hope.
The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud
This book follows after the events of The Stranger where Meursault (the main character) shoots a man referred to only as The Arab. Daoud's book has the man's brother attempting to investigate the shooting and sort of solve the puzzle of it for his mother and himself.
It was a really interesting treatment.
The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantu
Cantu's mother was the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, and he grew up near the border on various state parks where she worked. He got a degree in international relations, studying for part of the time in Mexico. He told friends and relatives he wanted to work at the border as an extension of that degree and to get a better understanding of the work on the ground.
The book is his reckoning with US immigration policies, with his work there, with friends and families and the general attitude and atmosphere of the border control agents.
A well written book and important for everyone in the US to read.
>157 mabith: Now more than ever. Just put myself on the waitlist for it at the library.
>158 jfetting: Jennifer, definitely a good work to play "spot the difference" with and see how things have changed especially.
The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein
Wow, what a book! Sandra Pankhurst grew up abused and excluded from her birth family. She was AMAB (assigned male at birth), and began doing drag acts after she left her wife and children, before she came out as trans. She was a sex worker, businesswoman, and trophy wife. In all her jobs she was an exceptional worker. Eventually, she became a trauma cleaner. Someone who cleans up crime scenes when the police are done and works on the houses of hoarders (who sometimes ask for help themselves and sometimes it's ordered by the city). She has blocked out details and timelines of her life due to trauma, and Krasnostein is good at acknowledging holes or even misconceptions.
It was a great read, and Sandra is an amazingly strong and kind character. I'd feel lucky to know her.
On Sanity by Una
A very short graphic treatment on the day the author's mother was sectioned (involuntarily committed), seen from both their points of view. This piece was started years ago by the author and finished later, though I wish it had been extended into a longer work. It's important, and having her mother's own words and thoughts on treatment, etc... makes it a more complete work.
The Wizard and the Prophet by Charles C. Mann
This book looks at two sides of the environmentalist movement. The 'wizard' side represented by Norman Borlaug, and the idea that we can engineer plants to keep up with population growth and climate change, and the 'prophet' side looking at William Vogt who believed we needed to cut back. Without cutting back we would eventually exhaust our ability to make the land produce more and would then be lost. This is the basis for a lot of argument today – the idea that science can save us and the idea that maybe it can but if we don't cut back and the science doesn't come through we'll sink.
The book doesn't get into “this is the best, no this is the best” it just presents these two men and their work and views and how that's carried forward. It was especially interesting to learn more about Borlaug who I knew a tiny bit about going into this.
One criticism stood out. Food waste. Everything I've ever read looking into it says that grocery stores, restaurants, etc (commercial outlets) waste far more food than consumers (which makes sense given the volume), yet this book only mentions consumers.
The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Muller
The book is set in Romania during the last month's of Ceausescu's regime. It is somewhat strange and atmospheric. One main character, Adina, finds pieces of her fox skin rug missing and this means she's being watched.
It always seemed like the book was only a few steps away from going into fantasy (or more concrete fantasy), and I felt somewhat unsatisfied that it didn't get there. I didn't dislike the book, but I didn't love it either.
The Orphan Mother by Robert Hicks
Not a good read, not recommended for anyone.
A former slave, now midwife, loses her son to violence surrounding an upcoming election. She works to find out why. Only it reads like the author did zero research and it's beyond obvious that this is a white author. The characterization never felt right, and there's zero depth to any of the characters.
No one in my book club enjoyed it, and I've seen some of those people find good in some really questionable books, so take that as a sign. It also read as the publisher saying "You had this success with a previous book, we'll give you an advance for a related book that we can heavily market to book clubs."
I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell
WOW. This book was amazing. I've been meaning to read more fiction by O'Farrell but saw a review for this memoir on here and had to read it. I read O'Farrell's first novel (After You'd Gone) when it was new, and liked it quite well. I don't read that much contemporary fiction though, so she's not always on my radar.
This memoir is stunning. It is memoir in the purest sense (vs autobiography), not looking at her life A-Z but at bits of it which make up a chunk of herself. The writing is wonderful, and it's often simply harrowing.
Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home by Leah Piepzna-Samarasinha
This will be a polarizing memoir, partly because it's not written to educate, it is written for the other people in her communities (South Asians, mixed race folks, LGBT+ folks, early childhood sexual abuse survivors). It is also written in a punk rock kind of way, if that makes any sense, she lived for many years in the hardcore activist scene, squatting, dumpster, etc... We go here and there, she does not pretend she can give us exactness or pure fidelity, and she admits all that she doesn't know or doesn't remember. The writing is also very poetic.
I really liked the book, but the other two people in my non-fiction book club didn't get it (they don't fall in her of her identities, I fall in a couple and I'm tuned in to others) and didn't like it. So there's my "your mileage may vary" warning!
Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki
Giant graphic non-fiction. Really information, though some of the author's personal recollections scattered in felt more distracting than enhancing. I imagine that's much less so in the next volume and during his military service.
Some of the drawing styles involved caricatures that we certainly see as racist if drawn by someone who isn't Japanese. It was unexpected and left me feeling rather odd.
The Spider King's Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo
The online book club and I had a little too much hope for this book, given how young the author was during the writing and publishing process (17 when she started writing it, 19 when it was accepted by the publisher, 21 when it was published). It definitely reads as a very young first novel. Plot is rich girl falling for/toying with poor boy with tragic backstory.
The writing and the sense of place is good, but the plotting is really where it's let down and maybe the character depth/development isn't right. I like the writing enough to request (and win) her second book, Welcome to Lagos in last month's ER giveaway though. I'm eager to see how she's grown.
The Hello Girls: America's First Women Soldiers by Elizabeth Cobbs
Fascinating book about women's military service in WWI, focusing heavily on the women's signal corps who were occupying a strange gray area where they were subjected 100% to military standards (there was almost a court martial, if I recall), yet the army claimed they were not at all in the military and deserved none of the benefits of their service (even those they'd been promised in some cases).
This topic was continued by mabith's 2018 Reads (Meredith) Part II.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.