Books I read in November

In November I finished what I had planned on being the last book to complete the 2019 PopSugar Reading Challenge. But then I found a downloadable audiobook edition of one of the books I had initially planned to read but at the time could only find as an ebook (I read magazine and newspaper articles online, but with rare exceptions, I don’t do ebooks), so now I’m listening to that.

The book I did finish was to meet the category of a book you see someone reading on TV or in a movie. Since I don’t watch TV and rarely watch movies (two this year, I think), it would be pretty difficult to find a book for this category based on my own TV or movie watching. But there are lists of these things online, and I found out that a character in The Dark Knight Rises is seen reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I generally try to be precise in finding books to meet these categories (which is one reason I’m listening to the audiobook I just mentioned, because I wasn’t sure the other book I had read really fit the category), but since it’s a reading challenge, I did not see a reason to watch the movie just so the book would fit the category better. My husband would no doubt have enjoyed watching it with me, but from the reviews I did not think I would like it much.

I did enjoy A Tale of Two Cities, however. I had read it for 9th grade English, and remembered having liked it, and had thought a number of times over the years of rereading it. So I decided it was finally time. What surprised me was how very little I recognized from having read it back then. I remembered Sydney Carton, and the famous last lines of the novel, as well as how he ended up where was at the end. I remembered Madame Defarge and her knitting. Other than the historical setting, that was it. Usually when rereading a book I at least recognize characters and events once I read about them again, but except for Lucie Manette and her father, nothing seemed familiar. That, of course, made it more interesting, in a way, as though I were reading it for the first time, even though I knew how it ended. Some parts at the beginning went pretty slowly, but I knew I had liked the book before and I knew it had a good ending, so it was not hard to keep going. As a side note, I suspect that this novel was where I first learned John 11:25-26, which became my favorite Bible verses after I came to faith in Christ the following summer.

Our library book club selection for last month was Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao. It is difficult to read, not because it is boring or hard to understand, but because of the terrible amount of violence against women described in the story. It is good to be aware of what is happening in the world, but so much is piled on and then more and more, so the reader becomes numbed to it after a while. It is a story of friendship, of persistence despite suffering and apparently hopeless circumstances, and hope even though hope seems all but lost.

I read a lot of books, and it’s been quite a while since one kept me until midnight. What’s more remarkable about reading Lost and Found by Orson Scott Card is that I stayed up reading until midnight when I was only halfway through the book, then the following night I did the same thing, so I could finish it. The back cover says it’s “unputdownable,” and I agree, even if I did – reluctantly – put it down a few times during the two days it took me to read. I’m sure if I had read this when I was much younger (which of course I couldn’t since it was just published this year), I would have stayed up and finished it in one night, but I’m old enough now to more easily set aside books to get things done that need to get done, including a halfway decent night’s sleep. The premise of people having “micropowers” is great – it shows people having special powers other people don’t have, but without the air of unreality that often goes with stories about superheroes. These people have to deal with the same stuff as everyone else, plus being misunderstood or even bullied because they are different. I also enjoyed the humor, including the banter among teenagers, even though I normally am turned off by snark. The book also deals with some serious (and sometimes dark) issues, yet handles them with both respect and humor.

I decided to read Professors Are from Mars, Students Are from Snickers: How to Write and Deliver Humor in the Classroom and in Professional Presentations by Ronald A. Berk because I was working on a speech for Toastmasters in which I was to work on using humor, and I thought this book could help, as humor is not exactly one of my strong points. There were some interesting suggestions in this book, but a lot of it was actually kind of boring to read, which surprised me in a book about humor. I suppose in some places he was using humor that I missed, and in others he was using over-the-top humor which I often find more annoying than humorous. It did help me somewhat, I think, not so much in specific ideas of how and when to use humor as just to look more for ways to incorporate humor.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience by Lee McIntyre, but I am interested in science – although certainly not as deeply as my son, who is majoring in physics – and I decided it was worth seeing what McIntyre had to say. He spends a lot of time discussing the question of what makes science different from other ways of pursuing knowledge, and the various ways people have tried to draw a clear line between that which is science and that which is not. McIntyre doesn’t think it’s worthwhile – if even possible, which he doubts – to identify that clear line, but he suggests that the scientific attitude is what makes the difference. If people are committed to drawing conclusions based on the data, and willing to change their minds when the data shows they had been wrong, they will gain reliable knowledge. Not certainty, as there is always the possibility that new data will show that what had seemed a very good explanation is actually not correct, but more reliable knowledge than other ways of pursuing it. I was particularly interested in the chapters specifically about denial and pseudoscience, as the controversy over climate change is one that evokes strong feelings. I was disappointed, however, that McIntyre only discussed the data in terms of whether climate change is occurring or not, making only a very brief mention of the issue of whether it is caused by human activity or not.

I was initially hesitant to purchase Boundless: What Global Expressions of Faith Teach Us about Following Jesus by Bryan Bishop, thinking from some of what I read about it that it might be trying to argue that all religious paths are equally good ways to God. (I think that, because of what theologians call common grace, there are some truths to be found in all religions – otherwise they would probably not have the lasting influence that they do – but that doesn’t mean that they are equally valid in what they teach about God.) I don’t like to avoid books because I may not like what they say, however, so I decided to get it. And it quickly became clear that Bishop was not talking about people who followed God without being Christians, but about people who followed Christ without using the label “Christian” due to misunderstandings in other cultures about what it means, as well as an attitude that does not focus on figuring out who is a Christian and who is not but simply focuses on joining others in growing in faith and obedience to Christ. He tells some very interesting stories of people following Christ in cultures far different from our Western culture, using their own music and other cultural elements in worship rather than trying to copy worship services common in our culture. He does not take an attitude of “anything goes,” however, but does suggest that we could learn a good deal from Christ-followers who worship in ways very different from us.

I don’t care for football or romance, but I try not to always avoid books on subjects that don’t interest me much, because it could be that a subject would interest me if explained well, and a good storyteller can use any setting to tell a good story. But The One & Only by Emily Giffin didn’t appeal to me at all. The football parts weren’t bad, they just didn’t add anything to the story for me. A mediocre story that involved books or time travel might still be an OK read, because of the inherent appeal those topics have for me. But football does not work that way for me as it might for others. As for Shea’s relationships with men – I just wanted to yell at her to stop being so foolish. I wanted to yell at her for a lot of things. It wasn’t a terrible story, and it accomplished its purpose of occupying my mind while driving, but I doubt I’ll try another book by Giffin.

It took me a while to read An Argumentation of Historians by Jodi Taylor. I eagerly dove into this ninth book in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s, but while not as dark as the previous book in the series, it wasn’t quite the lighthearted fun I was in a mood for, and I set it aside. Once I finally got back to it, it was pretty good. There is plenty of history, including an extended visit to 1399, where Max is apparently stranded, and she sees no way that she will ever return to her own time. Of course, I already have the next book in the series, so I know something will work out, and I wonder how someone as experienced in time travel as Max could be confused enough to think that just because she had been there for months, she had also been missing for months from her own time (she is gone a week). There is maybe not as much humor in this novel as in some of the earlier ones, but it is there, especially toward the end.

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea was our library book club selection for December, and since our meeting was December 1, I had to finish the book before then. It started out moderately interesting, but quickly lost me in the maze of characters and flashbacks. I pushed my way through, both to be ready for the book club meeting, and to be done with it so I could read something else. There are some interesting stories in there, but as a whole it’s more confusing than enjoyable. At least I know Spanish – one of my friends in the book club was frustrated by the number of Spanish words used, which she did not understand. I didn’t know all the Mexican slang, but I was always able to get the sense of what was being said. In some ways it reminded me of some of the books in Spanish I read in grad school – I understood the words, but had trouble appreciating what the author was trying to do with them.

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