Wednesday, November 14, 2012

September and October Reads

November quickly approaches its halfway point, and I just now am getting around to reporting what I read in both September and October.

This will be quick. I have books to read and only weeks to do it. It's unlikely I'll make my goal of 52, but I do want to surpass the previous years' totals of 42.5 (2010) and 39 (2011). Right now, I'm sitting at 30.

Let's hope I get to 40....

What did I read in the past two months?

Fieldwork: A Novel by Mischa Berlinski: Set in Chiang Mai, the novel is part murder mystery, travelogue, and anthropological study. It follows the author (a fictional version of the writer) as he tries to solve the mystery of why a talented anthropologist studying a tribe in northern Thailand would murder a missionary. It's not only clever and entertaining; it's also a thought-provoking study of the tensions between academic anthropology and missionary culture and the idea of "going native." Fascinating and fun read.

Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee: I have long been fascinated by cancer in all of its facets--it's history, psychology, chemistry, and politics. Mukherjee seamlessly unites all of these elements by providing a biography of  a disease that has existed throughout documented history but has been so little understood. Everyone will likely know someone who has or will have cancer. I have known far too many. This book is for everyone who wants to understand more about this disease. My only quibble: I would have liked more about the commodification of cancer activism, or really about the politics and culture of recent mainstreams movements of cancer activism in general (Komen and Livestrong). But I think that would have gone beyond the scope of his his study. Besides that, as a researcher, Mukherjee's descriptions of the biology of cancer border on the poetic and his narrative of the early years of cancer research are riveting. This is one of my favorite books of the year.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs: I must say, this author has a great author name. And I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Under the narration of anyone other than a disaffected privileged youth who is not all that likable, the book would have come across as too precious. But, it works somehow. I know I'm not really saying what it is about, but honestly, I bought it because I liked the author's name and the cover and knew very little else than it was about a home for children with mysterious powers on an isolated island. Go into it cold and expect not only a narrative treat but also a visual ones. In other words, there are pictures. Quick and fun. I hope there's a sequel.  (Hot damn! I just looked it up, and there is a sequel set for next year!)

Thumped by Megan McCafferty: The sequel to Bumped. This dystopian series set in the near future which places pregnant teenagers as celebrities because they are the only ones who can get pregnant concludes with the two twins, Melody and Harmony, one pregnant and one not, attempting to maintain the deception that both are expecting. There are plot holes, black hole-sized ones. But it does not provide a tidy ending, and it reveals how unready for parenthood teenagers truly are (because honestly no one truly is ready for parenthood, least of all teens).

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash: Set in a small town in North Carolina and within the walls of a creepy-ass fundamentalist church (think speaking in tongues and snakes), Cash's novel takes the perspectives of three narrators--an older woman who has separated from the church and its charismatic yet violent leader, a young boy whose experience of loss goes beyond that of a family member and his innocence, and the long-time sheriff in the community who is an outsider but has his own burden of grief to bear. Don't let the title fool you. This novel is a rough one. It is violent, brutally so, and what the youngest narrator has to live through will break your heart.

All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith: After reading such heavy novels and nonfiction, Smith's memoir of her travels through Guatemala, Mexico, Chile, Paraguay, Ecuador and Argentina organizing Jane Austen book clubs was a welcome one. I approached it hesitantly. You know,  "Oh, great. Another book about book clubs," but I was pleasantly surprised. And that is how I was describe the book: pleasant. It is light, but I enjoyed it. I appreciated her honestly when talking about her misconceptions of Latin America and how the people in the different countries to which she traveled would interpret Austen. Also, it contains a very Austen love story in the background.... I enjoyed it.

What I'm reading now:
The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan: An actual book with pages! I am determined to read it in front of my children instead of having my kindle or iphone in front of my face.

Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking: Powerful, Practical Strategies to Build a Lifetime of Resilience, Flexibility, and Happiness by Tamar E. Chanksy: A necessary book at the moment.

Korea and Her Neighbors by Isabella Bird: I get the feeling she didn't like Korea in the 1890s all that much, but it is fascinating--a Victorian's account of Korea before the Japanese occupation.

No comments: