Books I read in June

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.

As Memorial Day weekend approached, I realized I had finished my library books and was looking for more, and it occurred to me it was a good time to look for a book to read during the season it is set in. I discovered partway through The High Season by Judy Blundell that the whole book doesn’t take place on Memorial Day weekend, but a large portion of it does, and I decided it would fit if I read the rest of it during the summer, even without trying to make it last until Labor Day weekend (especially as it was a library book). I can’t say I found it nearly as funny as a lot of readers do. I generally do not enjoy books that poke fun at people, regardless of what group it is. It was hard to like the characters, but neither do I enjoy laughing at them.

My original choice for a book becoming a movie in 2019, before I read either Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine or The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind had been Native Son by Richard Wright, but I hadn’t made up my mind for sure to read it, finding the other two much more enjoyable. I don’t like avoiding a book because it will take more effort to read, however, when I know it has been such an influential book as Wright’s has. While I was reading it, two friends even commented on having liked it so much. I can’t say I enjoyed reading it – the subject matter doesn’t lend to “enjoying” it – but I hope it has given me some insight into the continuing problem of race relations in this country. Much has changed since the 1940’s, but the past continues to influence the present more than we would like.

I was originally going to use Zoom: How Everything Moves: From Atoms and Galaxies to Blizzards and Bees as a book I meant to read in 2018. I wasn’t quite sure, though, that I hadn’t bought (and planned to read it) back in 2017. Then one day I noticed the author’s name, Bob Berman, and realized it would be a better fit for a book by an author whose first and last names start with the same letter. I had bought this book because I had so enjoyed the previous book I had read by Berman, Zapped: From Infrared to X-rays, the Curious History of Invisible Light. That book conveyed lots of interesting history and trivia but the focus seemed to be on helping the reader understand the mysteries of “invisible light.” In Zoom, it seemed that the bits of history and trivia were the focus, and the science about motion merely the vehicle for telling them. I enjoy trivia in small doses, and history when it is part of a larger story. But it was the science I was looking for, and there didn’t seem to be as much in this book. Still, it was interesting, just not for continuous reading (it took me a few months to get through it).

The rest of the book I read in June simply reflect my various interests, mostly dealing with history, the Christian faith, and books by favorite writers. I don’t watch movies much or take an interest in what goes on in Hollywood, but The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies by Ben Fritz intrigued me for what it tells us about trends in our culture. I had been somewhat aware of the increase in movies that are part of a “franchise,” particularly the superhero movies, as the rest of my family enjoys them, and I have gone to a few. But I had not realized the economic issues involved, and I found that part very interesting. I also had not realized how much television has changed in the past decade, as we canceled cable in 2009 and have not watched TV since, other than whatever my husband watches on Netflix. I was particularly interested in reading about the influence China has had in recent years on what is produced in Hollywood.

That last fact was part of what I chose to read Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945 by Rana Mitter, along with curiosity about why the father of a Chinese-American character in a book I read in May was so vehemently opposed to his son’s friendship with a Japanese-American girl. When we studied WWII in school (which we didn’t, very much, as our history classes tended to focus on what happened longer ago, not what our own parents could remember and tell us about), I don’t remember hearing about China’s involvement, and I certainly never realized that was why they are a permanent member of the UN Security Council (though I did sometimes wonder why). The book had far more detail on battles than I was really interested in, but it was fascinating to learn this history that I had known next to nothing about, yet that has such a continuing influence on the world today.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande does include some history, about how nursing homes came to be and how they got the way they are, but mostly it is about the living and dying of those whose health problems usually put them in nursing homes or hospitals, and why we tend to make this part of life much more unpleasant than it needs to be by refusing to have the kind of conversations we need to have as well as by “medicalizing” everything. Gawande gives examples of both what happens all too often and the (unfortunately) more unusual cases where people are able to have more meaningful, satisfying lives even as death approaches. There is a lot of food for thought as well as practical advice for taking steps ahead of time to make better decisions when there are still more choices available to people.

Educated by Tara Westover is history on a personal level. I had been meaning to read it, especially having heard Westover speak at a conference I attended in April, so I was glad when it turned out to be the monthly choice for our local book club. I had expected it to be more about her formal education, and what it was like learning academic subjects that were completely new to her, not having gone to school before college. There is some of that, but it is a relatively small part of the book. Mostly it is about her family, particularly their views on modern medicine (to be avoided in almost all cases) and on women (viewed with suspicion of immoral tendencies, and required to be subservient to men), and her difficulties in unlearning those views even after she was exposed to the wider world.

I don’t remember exactly what I was looking for online, related to the Christian life, when I came across references to The Wisdom of Your Heart: Discovering the God-given Purpose and Power of Your Emotions by Marc Alan Schelske. I may not have been quite as out of touch with my emotions when I was younger as Schelske describes in his own life, but it was not a whole lot better. As I child I had concluded, based largely no doubt on the negative effects of my parents’ emotionally-driven behaviors, that it was best to show – indeed, to feel – as little emotion as possible. As an adult I began to try to unlearn that, and to be more aware of the emotions I was trying not to feel, but it’s an area where I know I still need a lot of growth. And I had never read an entire book devoted to the subject in the context of theology and the Christian life. I’m not sure I agree with all that he says in terms of God and emotions, but there is a great deal to learn from this book in terms of recognizing our emotions, what gives rise to them, and how to learn from them to take appropriate actions.

Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels edited by Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani is described as “An engaging and hilarious collection that encourages readers to tackle those strange, awkward, worrying, yet endlessly compelling passages of the Bible.” I would agree that it is mostly engaging, but hilarious? Of course, I have often found that other people find things laugh-out-loud that barely make me smile, so that’s probably the case here as well. I also found that many of the essays tackled not Bible passages so much as common attitudes in some churches, which owe more to culture and tradition than Scripture. Having gone for years to churches where doubts and questions (let alone outright heterodoxy) did not feel at all welcome, I can appreciate those reflections on learning to deal with feel one doesn’t fit with a church community’s way of thinking/being. But I had been looking for something focused more specifically on Scripture. Some of them were, but still did not deal all that directly with the text but more with their feelings about it. Still, there was a good deal that was thought-provoking in the book. Some of the writers have views quite different from my own, and it’s always good to interact with other views on what it means to know and serve God.

Theology Remixed: Christianity as Story, Game, Language, Culture by Adam C. English is an attempt to find fresh ways to talk about Christianity, using analogies as Jesus did (“to what shall I compare the kingdom of God?”) but to ideas more familiar to the modern world. It is a different way of discussing Christianity from what people are probably used to, not about any specific beliefs or practices but what elements Christianity has in common with stories, games, languages, and cultures. I found the chapters on language and games particularly interesting, because of my interest in learning different languages, and from trying to create games several years ago with my younger son. Each analogy has areas where it falls short, and English is careful to point these out. I don’t know that I learned anything particularly new from this book, so it would be interesting to know what someone with little prior experience with Christianity would think of it.

Having recently read The Lost Gate and The Gate Thief by Orson Scott Card, I finished the series by reading Gatefather. It was OK but not great. Card attempts to explain what is behind the magic in the worlds where this trilogy takes place, and frankly I thought it was better simply having the magic work and not getting into the details of how or why. Or maybe I just didn’t like the explanation he created. Afterward I decided to also read Stonefather, which he had written years before the trilogy, and which also takes place long before. It is fairly short, and I enjoyed it in some ways more than the Mither Mages books. It does not attempt to explain the magic, but simply describes a young man discovering that he has magic and learning to use it.

Finally, I came across Nancy Atherton’s latest Aunt Dimity book in the library, so of course had to read it. Aunt Dimity and the King’s Ransom takes place not in the village of Finch, but in a town where Lori gets stuck in a bad storm. Lots of other people got stuck there too, and the only “room” available in the hotel is in the attic, which according to the hotel owners’ daughter is haunted. So Lori has to figure out the mystery of the supposed ghosts, along with what she sees as suspicious behavior by another man staying at the hotel. It’s hardly the best in the series but it’s a nice relaxing read, which is sometimes all I’m looking for.

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