Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Book Log: July 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

35) 7/2: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado
Here's another audiobook listen (accomplished while finally reclaiming my craft room, which has been in a sorry state for way too long and is now a welcome oasis when I can retreat there, if even only to read than to create).

It was a friend's recommendation after I shared a Kindle sale for Hillbilly Elegy (covered in my February book log).

Like JD Vance's book, it articulates what life is like for someone barely getting by. There have been just enough conversations lately with friends about the importance of listening to stories like this. With frequent debate about what healthcare in our country should look like, for instance, it appears the people making the decisions haven't considered how it legitimately impacts individuals at every level because their experience hasn't been a typical one (issues like not every employer offers healthcare, or birth control is prescribed for more than just preventing pregnancy, and so on).

Tirado goes through her life experience, both sharing what led her to her current situation and how hopeless and dehumanizing it can be (for instance, she has great shame -- and pain -- about her teeth, but she doesn't have the financial means to address the situation because when money comes up, it's earmarked elsewhere).

36) 7/8: You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
Green Bay held UntitledTown, an inaugural book and author event, this past spring. It fell during a busy weekend, so while many events intrigued me, I was only able to attend the capstone talks, given by Sherman Alexie and Margaret Atwood.

I was familiar with Atwood and read The Handmaid's Tale before her talk (see my April log). I'm embarrassed that I was previously unfamiliar with Sherman Alexie (although a couple of his book titles were known to me). He opened the evening, and I was blown away. He is a talented speaker, weaving a series of stories that seemed entertaining and flippant at the start, only to reveal at the end that he's been intentionally working to a emotionally moving close.

This memoir was his focus, as it was released this summer. It covers his complicated relationship with his mother and the emotional processing of her death. So much of it resonated with me. My mother struggles with depression and schizophrenia, so while our experiences haven't been identical, I could easily relate with the complexity surrounding a nontraditional parent-child relationship. It was a powerful, beautiful read. Alexie writes essays as well as poetry, and it's a perfect blend. I highlighted repeatedly, and if I dwell too long on the passages I marked, it makes me want to weep for the truth of the words.

37) 7/8: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
This was the July book club selection, my recommendation, as it had been suggested by my husband several (many?) years ago as an interesting read.

It is a thought-provoking post-apocalyptic piece written in three parts, with 600 years passing between each section (the section titles, in Latin, translate to "Let there be man," "Let there be light," and "Let thy will be done").

The book asks you to consider the role of faith, science, and technology in our world. It was written in 1960, and our book club mentioned how forward-thinking Miller was in imagining the future as well as how relevant the book was today, as if it had just been published. Even with each section being unique in its scope, the book reveals how cyclical the world is when it comes to how people behave in power, and there's much to consider with morality and how church and government act in the world.

38) 7/21: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
I'd picked up this book from a recent school book order for my older daughter (she's an accomplished enough reader that the 1st grade offerings were typically beneath her, and I learned I wasn't limited by grade, so I began eyeing the chapter books meant for older elementary students).

She hasn't jumped into it yet, but I saw the audiobook at the library and picked it up. While painting around the house (an outside door and the landing trim/bathroom cabinet, to be exact), it was pleasantly completed.

It's a delightful listen. Two siblings run away, and given that comfort is a factor, the older sister decides to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The mystery surrounding a recent museum acquisition focuses the children into learning as much as they can about the authenticity of the statue in question. The story is told from the point of view of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the reasoning of which is made clear towards the end. Since I'm so critical of audiobook readers, even though I often listen, I should articulate that this one was perfectly done.

39) 7/27: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
I had acquired this audiobook free when Audible gave it away in January. I held off listening to it, even though it was getting rave reviews, because it had come up as a possible book club selection. It hasn't been mentioned lately and I didn't want to miss out any longer, so the majority of it was enjoyed while I painted the girls' playroom (yes, the theme this summer is "listen to podcasts or audiobooks while tackling painting projects").

First, Trevor Noah does an exceptional job reading it, and it easily seems one where you should try, if at all possible, to listen to it instead of reading it; even setting aside his accent, hearing him jump into other languages adds a great dynamic, and he modulates his voice to diversify the various individuals.

Trevor discusses at length his experience growing up in South Africa under apartheid and how things altered when apartheid ended. He has a white father and a black mother, which played a large role in how he was treated under apartheid as well as how his experiences in school played out (he shares how people differentiated among white, black, colored, mixed, Indian). He is well read and seamlessly shares historical details. I found myself often grinning as he shared about his relationship with his mother.  She holds her own with him, and there's no doubt where his strength and resilience came from.

I highly recommend this one; Trevor Noah tells a fine story, and while sometimes gushing recommendations from others can lead me to have overly high expectations and be disappointed, that was fortunately not the case here.

40) 7/29: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
This was a well-done read that I started in January and have been plugging at pretty steadily ever since. It's a dense book at 545 pages, but it's an eye-opening read.

In it, Wilkerson takes three individuals who left the South in different decades to frame her research about the migration of blacks out of the South, an event that began around 1915 and is understood to have ended around 1970. I read it on my Kindle and have what amounts to pages and pages highlighted.

My earlier descriptive of "dense" might turn people off, but it's one of those non-fiction books that's very accessible and I would get invested with the various characters, rooting them on and hoping they found success. I highly recommend this one.

41) 7/30: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
I have read the Harry Potter series previously (perhaps only once before...), but I've been wanting to revisit them. Even though we own all the books, I'd heard high praise for the Jim Dale audiobooks, so I've taken to knitting in my craftroom or tidying up there while listening. It's been a pleasant routine.

Right as I began this book, though, my husband began reading the series to my 6-year-old daughter, and I found myself cringing when they'd get ahead of me and I would even try to leave the room if I could (I know the general arc, but since it's been awhile since I read them, I want to be revisit the little details in chronological order). We plan on halting the read-aloud after the third book until she gets older, so then I can devour the final books, spoiler-free!