Sunday, May 31, 2015

2015 Reading catch-up post, books 46-54

So, getting ready for the Europe trip, along with some personal writing projects, has taken over my life for the past month. My reading pace has slowed down, way down, though I'm hoping to be able to make up some time what with all the hours I'll be spending on airplanes and the occasional train in June and July!

46. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

With this book I ventured into the rare-for-me genre of literary fiction as part of a recent commitment of mine to seek out more books by nonwhite authors. As part of a discussion about people trying to read more books by women, I reflected that that wasn't an issue for me, given that almost all of the fiction I read is woman-authored, along with maybe half the nonfiction. But I could easily go months without ever reading a nonwhite author and not even notice I'm doing it.

So, at least once a month, I plan to read a book by an author of color. And I can't count the same author more than once a year, since it would kind of defeat the purpose of exposing myself to a broader range of voices if I find an author with, say, a nice long mystery series and read one per month.

Anyway, while this was a fascinating book, it was also dark and depressing enough to remind me why I generally prefer genre to literary fiction. I am glad I read it, though.

47. The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale

The latest in Nathan Hale's series of graphic novels for upper elementary readers about American history looks at Harriet Tubman's childhood and youth, her escape from slavery, and her work on the Underground Railroad. This wasn't my favorite in the series--Donner Dinner Party has a tighter narrative arc (probably because it covers a shorter time period and was just a more linear historical incident), and Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood impressed me by actually making WWI comprehensible to young readers like my daughter without trivializing it. But an average Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tale is still an awesome book, and I learned quite a bit from it, since I didn't know much about Harriet Tubman beyond her name and the fact she was involved with the Underground Railroad.

48. How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson

A quick, fascinating read looking at how innovations in six different areas have built on each other in unexpected ways over the past few centuries. Definitely recommended for those who like history of science books.

(As a side note, I'm way too prone to describing books as "fascinating." Memo to self: find new adjectives for "this book was cool and really held my attention.")

49. In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

Another graphic novel read to be shared with my daughter, though this one was a Message Book, and one that was too heavy-handed for my taste despite my agreeing with its views.

50. The Dirt on Clean by Katherine Ashenburg

An interesting, readable social history on the history of cleanliness in the western world from ancient Greek days to the present.

51. Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire

Fourth in the InCryptid series. I haven't liked the last two books as much as the first two--I enjoyed Verity Price's New York adventures more than her brother Alex's role as zookeeper to creatures both ordinary and paranormal--but this one did have a good bit of the family's Aeslin Mice, which are my favorite magical creatures EVER.

52. Cheated by Jay Smith and Mary Willingham

A detailed account of a long-running academic scandal at the University of North Carolina involving the funneling of academically ill-prepared athletes, especially in the "money" sports of football and men's basketball, into courses whose requirements were basically nonexistent. Basically, it's the kind of thing I always kinda assumed was going on with elite collegiate sports programs, but it's depressing to see it spelled out.

I love football especially so much, but lately between the head injury issues, the stunted educations of young men who are unlikely to ever see the NFL (or play long enough to amass a fortune to last them their lifetimes if they do), and the fact the sport's powers that be seem to think I should be happy to ignore rampant domestic violence and sexual assault issues, I'm finding it harder and harder to justify that love.

53. Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms by Gerard Russell

What with how busy and travel-focused I've been, it took me two weeks to finish this book, though it's fascinating--an account of the (mostly) obscure minority religions of the Middle East--Druze, Samaritans, Yazidi, Zoroastrians, etc.

54. Dead Wake by Erik Larson

An account of the last Atlantic crossing and sinking of the Lusitania. A good read if you like historical disaster tales, and IMHO Larson's best work to date. It's remarkable in a way that the loss of so many American civilian lives didn't expedite our entry into WWI--and, I have to admit, it speaks well of Woodrow Wilson, who isn't my favorite of the well-known POTUSes for several reasons. But the book's focus, and where it shines, is in the stories of all the individuals aboard the ship (mostly the survivors, though in some cases I guessed wrong about who was going to survive because some particularly vivid account turned out to be from a survivor's memory of a dead companion or from papers recovered from a body).

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