Books I read in January

February 4, 2019

I did a lot of reading this month. It helped that I had some extra weekdays with no work, between holidays and winter weather when the school was closed. Plus it’s the time of year to stay indoors, and what better way to pass that time than curled up with a good book? Not all books turn out to be really good, but you only find out by reading them. (I guess there are some books that are just plain bad that you can find out by reading reviews, but the books that others consider good always turn out to have some people who love them and others who just can’t get into them.)

I’m well into the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge, and so far most of the books I’ve read have been OK but not great. I haven’t really disliked any of them, at least not once I got far enough into the book to get what was going on.

First was Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, which I picked for a book with a two-word title, and because the college library had it in a display of Best Books of 2018. It was one I really didn’t care for at the beginning, but over the course of the book I got to like the narrator somewhat better. It’s certainly not one of my favorites, but I got a see how life looks from a very different perspective from my own experience, which was the point in reading it.

Next was At Home in the World: Stories and Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life by Thich Nhat Hanh, which I picked for a book written by an author from Asia, Africa, or South America, but mostly I read it because I’m leading a Bible study looking at world religions from a Christian viewpoint, and I thought the study guide we’re using did a poor job of portraying Buddhism. Along with this book, not for the Reading Challenge but for the Bible study, I read Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction by Damien Keown. Between these two, I (and the ladies in the Bible study) got a better idea of Buddhist ideas and life.

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Books I read in December

January 1, 2019

It took me into the last week of the year, but this year I finished the PopSugar Reading Challenge. And with only one book in the challenge left to read in December, I had plenty of time to read other books as well.

The last book for the challenge was “a book with a female author who uses a male pseudonym.” The librarian at work had suggested something by Alice Bradley Sheldon, a science fiction writer who was published under the name James Tiptree, Jr. I like science fiction, and I had never heard of Tiptree before, but there was nothing in the library system, either at the college or the public library, and I wasn’t interested enough  to buy a book by a writer I’d never read before. So I settled on Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, a memoir by Karen Christenze Dinesen (Baroness Blixen-Finecke) of her life on a coffee farm in Africa. I knew there had been a movie made based on the book (apparently very loosely based on it), so I had expected there to be a coherent storyline, but there really wasn’t. There were a number of somewhat connected stories, along with musings on Africa and life in general. There were parts of it that were certainly interesting, but as there was no sense of each story building on another toward a certain goal, it took me weeks to get through it. Knowing that she lived in a much different era, I tried not to be offended by her unthinking racist comments, but I was repeatedly struck by the sense that I was reading a book by someone with a vastly different outlook on society. Read the rest of this entry »

Books I read in November

December 2, 2018

It’s near the end of the year, and near the end of the PopSugar 2018 Reading Challenge. I have one book left to finish in December, having finished three in November, along with a variety of other books, of course.

Finding “a book that was being read by a stranger in a public place” was a challenge in itself. I rarely see strangers reading books in public, partly because my daily routine does not involve a lot of time in public places among strangers (unless you count students I encounter around campus, and I’m not inclined to read one of their textbooks, even if I did see one of them studying one), but mostly because these days there don’t seem to be a lot of people reading printed books. I see lots of people looking at their smart phones or tablets, and no doubt some of them are reading books, but since most are probably not, I am not going to approach someone and ask, what are you reading.

But finally in October, I ended up in the public library during a tornado warning, bunched in the basement with everyone else in the library, and the man sitting next to me was both someone I didn’t know and was reading a book. He kindly showed me what it was, and as the library also had it as an audiobook, I listened to it in November (once I had finished the book I was listening to at the time). The late show by Michael Connelly was moderately interesting (so it was a good choice considering I could have found myself sitting next to someone reading a book I really disliked), but I can’t say I was all that impressed with it. Neither were some readers who like other books by Connelly, so I might consider one of those. Sometime. Maybe.

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Books I read in October

November 2, 2018

As I near the end of the PopSugar 2018 book challenge, I am finishing with the categories where I found it more difficult to find a book to fit the prompt, and sometimes ended up with one that took more effort to read. But it means I am reading books I would not have even considered otherwise, which is the idea, and I think it’s a good idea, even if I haven’t enjoyed some of the books very much.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was my eventual choice for a book with characters who are twins, having found it in a list for this category on Lots of readers there do this book challenge, so it’s easy to find long lists of suggestion for each category. This one was cited as a favorite by more than one reader, and the idea of a book that mixed mystery, magic, historical fiction, and romance sounded like a good read. I found it surprisingly hard to get caught up in the story, however, and while on the whole I enjoyed reading it, I had to push myself to keep reading it. I don’t mind a story that moves slowly if it gets deeply into its characters, but it did neither. The idea of this particular circus is unusual enough that I found its descriptions interesting, but I remain puzzled how it appeals so strongly to some readers.

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Books I read in September

October 5, 2018

I’m nearing the end of the PopSugar Reading Challenge for 2018. Not counting two books I’m in the middle of reading, I have one book left to read for the basic challenge, and three for the advanced challenge. Here are the books I read for the challenge this past month, plus others I read just because they were interesting.

I had a lot of trouble coming up with a good choice for “a book with an ugly cover.” There are books whose covers I don’t care for as much as others, but very few that I would consider ugly. And when I occasionally found one I did consider ugly, the cover was tied to content that I had no interest in reading. I finally settled on Some Trick by Helen DeWitt, because I thought the bright pink circles superimposed over an otherwise pleasing painting of a rabbit was quite unappealing. Unfortunately I did not find the stories all that appealing either, despite the descriptions of “witty” and “brilliant” on the cover. It may be true that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but if this prompt was supposed to get me to read a wonderful book that I might have avoided because of the ugly cover, it did not succeed with me. (Though I do have to acknowledge that one vivid line particularly struck me, regarding a piano player whose “fingers like cigars grabbed at chords like bunches of bananas.”)

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Books I read in August

September 1, 2018

Following the prompts of the PopSugar 2018 Reading Challenge has pushed me to read some very interesting books I would not have read otherwise – which is of course the point of the challenge. It has occasionally involved reading books that I did not enjoy as much, but so far none that I truly disliked.

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington was my choice for “True crime.” This was a category I was not eager to read, as I don’t see entertainment value in reading about the awful things people have really done, and non-fiction provides less scope for some of the development of characters’ interests and concerns in areas not related to the crime (or at least not directly), which is part of what makes a really good mystery novel in my opinion. But then I came across this book, where the wrongdoing at the center of the account is not the murders for which two men are convicted and sent to prison, but the injustice of a system that resulted in their being convicted despite being innocent, while the real murderer was still out there somewhere. That the system could be misused the way it was did not surprise me, but that it had all taken place as recently as it did, with some unknown number of other people most likely still serving prison sentences for crimes they did not commit.

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie was my pick for “A book about or set on Halloween.” My impression was the most books set on Halloween would be in the horror genre or psychological thrillers or other macabre stories that I really don’t enjoy reading. But I have read some of Christie’s books before and enjoyed them, so I expected to enjoy this one also. I was disappointed, however, and when I read reviews of the book later I saw that I was far from alone in thinking it wasn’t as good as Christie’s other works. One interesting aspect of it the number of references to aspects of the 1960’s (it was published in 1969), within my lifetime. I am used to Christie’s books being set in an earlier time, and those references felt somewhat discordant.

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Books I read in July

August 9, 2018

Having completed about two-thirds of the 2018 Reading Challenge, I’m having to do more searching to find books to fill the remaining categories, and more of my reading is books that just look interesting for one reason or another and can’t by any stretch fit in one of the challenge categories. But I have crossed three more off my list, and read some very interesting books in the process. And of course I kept reading other books as well.

Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening by Manal Al-Sharif – this was my choice for a book by an author of a different ethnicity than you. It was just after the news that women had finally been granted the legal right to drive in Saudi Arabia, so when I found this book in the library it was an obvious choice. I had not realized just how much not being able to drive would constrict women’s lives (since my only experiences of living outside the U.S. were in European cities with good public transportation), but that is just one of many restraints on women’s freedom in that country. It is eye-opening how modernity co-exists with such entrenched traditions, traditions which unfortunately have become closely identified with Islam in the eyes of many. Al-Sharif herself was, for a time during her teenage years, persuaded by the fundamentalist preaching that was all she heard in school. College broadened her horizons, and later an opportunity to spend time in the U.S. showed her very different ways of thinking and living. Back in her homeland, she became an activist, and even spent time in prison for “driving while female.”  

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was a book I wanted to read anyway, because I had previously read I am the Messenger and found Zusak’s writing style refreshingly different. When I found it on a list of books about death or grief, I got a copy of the audiobook from the library. I had imagined a book about a “book thief” to have a lot more to do with books and stealing, maybe someone making a living off selling stolen books. The Book Thief does have books that play an important role, but the “thief” is a girl living in Nazi Germany, and it is words more than books per se that are keys. Words aren’t just spoken in Zusak’s novel – they are thrown, dropped, hurled, wrung out. Sometimes they lean up against people. And they motivate. To love, or hate, or fear, or hope. It seems even Death (the narrator) can be moved by them.

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell – I had read and enjoy some of Mankell’s novels, particular his Kurt Wallender series. So when I found out that his novels would fit the category of “Nordic noir” in the reading challenge, I decided to read the first Kurt Wallender novel (usually I try to read series in order, but sometimes, especially with audiobooks – where the library has only one or two by an author – it doesn’t happen that way). It was reasonably good, I guess, but I am glad I read some of the later novels first, as I’m not sure I would have been as impressed reading this one first. (One reason I try to read series in order is that not only does the storyline make more sense that way, but the writing generally improves over time, and reading a first novel after reading one written much later is often disappointing.) Read the rest of this entry »