Books I read in October

November 3, 2019

This is the first month this year I haven’t completed any books for the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge, but I’m on my last book, and listening to an mp3 LibriVox recording during the twelve minutes on my exercise bike weekday mornings, which means it takes quite a while to finish a book. Of course, having finished the rest of the books in the challenge, I have more time to read other books.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is a book I’d been planning on reading for over a year. It’s long, however, and when I browsed through it on the college bookshelf, it didn’t look like a light read. I finally decided to read it when I was working on a speech for Toastmasters on making choices. I’m not sure how much it helped with the speech (the purpose of which was to include humor), but it was fascinating reading, and not at all dull or heavy. Other readers might disagree, of course, but I found it very enjoyable – in part because I really enjoy learning new things, and learning how our minds work is one of those meta-topics that relates to absolutely everything else.

Also while working on the speech, I came across references to The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz, and since that ended up being the specific topic of my speech (that choosing from among fewer options can make us happier), I was pleased to find the book in the library, and read through it in two or three days. I had read several articles, including one by Barry Schwartz, discussing that topic, so the ideas were not new but it fleshed them out more, and helped me decide how to structure my speech.

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Books I read in September

October 3, 2019

As October begins, I am more than halfway through my final book for the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge, having finished three more this month. Now I can work on my to-be-read list, which I add to as I learn of books I’d like to read (often from what my friends on Goodreads have commented favorably on, and occasionally a book I hear or read about elsewhere). For months my TBR list has been growing, as I add to it faster than I can read books from the list. But now that I won’t have books to read for the PopSugar Challenge for a few months (until January when the new challenge begins!), I may cut it down a bit.

I puzzled a while over what book fit “a book you meant to read in 2018,” since I don’t generally plan on reading books at any particular time except for the PopSugar Challenge and for the local library book club. But then I remembered having done a project in Toastmasters last year, presenting Ursula Le Guin’s speech “A Left-Handed Commencement Address” (for an advanced manual on interpretive reading, specifically to interpret and present a famous speech), and deciding I should read her book The Left Hand of Darkness. This novel is considered one of the first (and in the eyes of many one of the best) examples of feminist sci-fi literature. It didn’t strike me as particularly feminist, but then, it was published fifty years ago, when I was a young girl, and social attitudes have changed a great deal since then, in part due to its influence. The novel examines the role of sex and gender in society, through the depictions of a world where everyone is androgynous. I found it interesting, but was surprised that it didn’t seem to explore these themes as thoroughly as I had expected. At its time, of course, it was very radical, and a deeper exploration of those themes perhaps required more changes in societal attitudes first. Read the rest of this entry »


Books I read in August

September 2, 2019

Near the end of the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge, I’m mostly reading books just for the enjoyment (or to occupy my mind while driving). But I did fit in a few to meet the challenge, in those categories I have been finding more challenging.

We read Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata for the local book club, but it conveniently turned out to be a good fit for a book with no chapters / unusual chapter headings / unconventionally numbered chapters (in this case, a book with no chapters). It’s kind of a strange book, hard to tell what message it’s trying to get across. That everyone should be allowed to be different, I guess, even if other people think they’re missing out on important things in life (relationships, family, children). A couple of us in the book club speculated that the main character is on the Autism spectrum, but it never says so in the book, so I have no idea whether that’s what the author had in mind. A person who can “hear” what the store wants is odd, though…

I was looking for a book published posthumously, and found After the Fire by Henning Mankell in a list of posthumously-published books. This novel was published in the original Swedish in 2015, the same year Mankell died, but I don’t know which came first. The English translation was definitely published posthumously, and while I’m not sure that counts for a purist, I decided it was good enough. It’s a slow-moving book, unlike most of Mankell’s books I have read (I have not read Italian Shoes, to which this is in some sense a sequel), more about relationships and coming to grips with the losses of aging and approaching death than about solving crimes. Not entirely satisfying, but then perhaps it is supposed to be melancholy. It was, after all, Mankell’s last book, and as he had cancer he no doubt was reflecting a lot on these issues of living and dying.

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Books I read in July

August 9, 2019

As I get near the end of the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge (only about 5 to go, though I may pick additional books for a few categories), I’m down to the categories that are hardest to find books to fit. Some that I have picked have been disappointing, but a few were excellent, the sort that justify this kind of reading challenge that gets me to read books I otherwise would not have known about, much less chosen to read.

It took me a while to decide on a reread of a favorite book. To be considered a favorite, to me that means a book I have read multiple times (otherwise it’s just a book I liked a lot). I don’t often reread books, partly because I have to have forgotten enough to not finding it somewhat boring to reread, but mostly because there are so many good books I haven’t yet read so I prefer spending my time on those. In the last few years, I have reread several of my favorites (usually for one of these reading challenges), so I had to find one I hadn’t reread recently. I finally settled on Heidi by Johanna Spyri, which was one of my favorites as a child but which I had not read since then (nor had I kept the copy I had back then, a prize for reading the most books in third grade). I remembered the overall story, but was surprised to see how much I had forgotten, and yet how readily I recognized not only the details but also at least an echo of the feelings I had when reading as a child. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much if I had read it the first time as an adult – the moralizing seems somewhat heavy-handed and Heidi seems unrealistically cheerful and well-behaved – but as a reread of a childhood favorite it was still very enjoyable as an adult.

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Take time to watch the dragonflies

July 21, 2019

They say, “Take time to smell the roses.” But frankly, I don’t recall ever finding the smell of roses all that special. My parents had a rosebush in their front yard, but what I remember most about it from my early childhood were the shiny copper and green Japanese beetles that crawled all over it. The flowers were far less interesting, though I suppose that could be in part because the Japanese beetles were getting the upper hand (or should it be upper maxilla?), and I don’t remember the rosebush at all from my later childhood.

The one flower aroma that I have generally found appealing is honeysuckle. At about the same age when I enjoyed watching Japanese beetles, I learned from my older sister how to eat the nectar from honeysuckle, which also grew in the front yard. I don’t remember what I used to think of the aroma of other flowers, but since an odd sickness several years ago that made me nauseous when I encountered any strong smell, even those I used to find pleasant, most of them I now find nauseating, unless the odor is very faint. (I hold my breath when walking past flower displays in the supermarket the week leading up to Mother’s Day.)

So I have no interest in taking time to smell roses, and I don’t linger to smell the honeysuckle. But I have always enjoyed spending time in nature, and this weekend I had the luxury of wandering around outside the bed-and-breakfast where my husband and I stayed as part of our vacation (also a belated 30th wedding anniversary getaway). This is rural Iowa, so the property is surrounded on at least two sides by cornfields (which I find quite nice-looking – I even took a few pictures, since I rarely have the chance to walk right up to a farmer’s field). But there is also a large pond in front of the house, and I sat there for quite a while enjoying the quiet, the solitude, and watching the birds and dragonflies darting around.

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Books I read in June

July 11, 2019

I always intend to spend more time outdoors in the warm weather, but warm weather turns to hot weather so fast! I come indoors after what doesn’t seem like that long working in the yard (though it probably is longer than I think, considering my tendency to underestimate how long anything takes except while I’m riding the exercise bike), and my face is so red I look like I’m sunburned (I’m not, I just get red in the face quickly in the heat). So I spend a good deal of time indoors where it’s cooler, reading books.

Since it looks like the movie adaptation of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine may well not be released until next year, I had to find another book becoming a movie in 2019 for the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge. I picked The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba, which was so good that I suggested watching our family watch the movie together on Netflix. I found his story fascinating, how he taught himself science from books because his family did not have money to pay school fees, and how he was able to use items from a junkyard (plus his father’s bicycle) to make a working windmill. His story also includes a lot about the history and culture and economy of his country, and how that shaped life for him and his family. I was somewhat disappointed in the movie, as there is no narration, only dialog (which confusingly switches between English and his native language with English subtitles), so I was not sure how well I would have understood several scenes if I had not read the book.

I had already read a book that fit my favorite prompt from a past POPSUGAR Reading Challenge (in fact, I read three about a bookstore or library), but Lies, Damned Lies, and History by Jodi Taylor also fits this category, as another favorite prompt was a book about time travel. If you like time travel books, this series is a lot of fun. And while some aspects of each book are predictable (mostly in a good way, I think), there are also surprising plot developments and character development. I look forward to continuing the series.

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Books I read in May

June 1, 2019

I wondered a few times this past month whether I had too many books I was trying to read. But I just keep finding more books that sound interesting and I want to read them. So I keep reading, and enjoying them (mostly), and learning.

For the PopSugar Reading Challenge, I picked Pop by Gordon Korman for a book with “pop,” “sugar,” or “challenge” in the title. It was a very interesting story, about football and people who love to play it, but more, it was about people and their relationships, the power of friendship, and how what we see from the outside is often so different from what is really going on.

For a novel based on a true story, I chose The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. I listened to the audiobook, and only learned when reading reviews afterward that the printed book has an afterword by the author, discussing what aspects of the book are based on actual history. Some audiobooks include such material, and I am disappointed that this one did not. I enjoy historical fiction even when it is not based on actual people, but as one reason I read this book was because it was based on a real person, I would have liked to hear more about the real Louise de Bettignies. I have read a variety of books set in WWII, but very few set in WWI, and none previously from the perspective of a female spy in WWI. That story is interspersed with another story set shortly after WWII, when the spy is much older, and is persuaded to help track down someone missing since 1943. I agree with other reviewers that the WWI story is better in many ways, but I have to admit it was a relief sometimes to read the WWII chapters, where the suspense was less and the descriptions of danger and death were from the past, not the present and imminent future.

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