The Half Year Book Report (#4)

January through June 2018

Toward the end of this six-month period, I decided to start including sentences I love from these books. When I can remember to write them down, that is. I used to do the Sunday Sentence on this blog, but now think it makes more sense to include those lines directly here. So look for more of those starting with the next installment of the Book Report this December. 

 

Title: The Boys in the Boat

Author: Daniel James Brown

Date Finished: 1/18

Finished: No

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: This book was full of impressive research and gave a fascinating look into the world I know nothing about. but it kept going and going. After I read about two or three races, that was enough. I didn’t need to read about eight more. I did a lot of skimming over those parts but enjoyed the human parts still. The lives of the men of the team were interesting. I also enjoyed that, although Nazi Germany was part of the setting, the book wasn’t too political. The Nazis weren’t the main point. 

 

Title: My Cousin Rachel

Author: Daphne du Maurier

Date Finished: 1/28

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: This book must have been good if I actually read a non-contemporary novel cover to cover. That rarely happens anymore. I thought the ending was a bit abrupt but enjoyed the story overall. Du Maurier did an excellent job maintaining the ambiguity in Rachel’s intentions, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions.

 

Title: Civil Disobedience and Other Essays

Author: Henry David Thoreau

Date Finished: 2/4

Finished: No

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: It’s difficult to rate a book like this because the language and mannerisms are so dated. But it is an important read. There are many ideas about the nature of man that remain worthy of debate today. I also like going back to a book like this as an adult because when we read this in middle or high school, I didn’t have enough experience to get much out of it.

 

Title: Born on a Blue Day

Author: Daniel Tammet

Date Finished: 2/5

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: This book provides a look into a world that is most often closed off to the rest of us. Not that I wish I had any developmental or cognitive disabilities, but I’m jealous of the author’s ability to absorb language. And I’m amazed by some of the things he did, like teaching in Lithuania, given his anxiety. I think the book could have been shorter, even given as short as it was already, because it was difficult to see how many of the segments fit in to the overarching narrative of life as an autistic savant. If you’re curious, you can look up his TED and other talks to get an idea of what his life is like.

 

Title: Big Bend : A Homesteader’s Story

Author: J.O. Langford, with Fred Gipson

Date Finished: 2/11

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: This book as a very easy read, simplistic language and information, but it provides a lot of think about. I wouldn’t have been as interested, or interested at all, if I hadn’t traveled to Big Bend, but to have been there and seen the desolation now, much less 100 years ago, made me so curious about life as a settler there. It intrigues me to think of the isolation and the way people on the border live according to their own rules. The book also covered the diversity of wildlife that used to exist there and how they used the landscape to their advantage but also had to contend with its dangers. The author and his wife look like little old 1950s suburban folk on the book jacket, which adds to the amazement of thinking about how they dealt with life on the hot, unforgiving, and dangerous Texas/Mexican border.

 

Title: Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

Author: Danzy Senna

Date Finished: 2/14

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: This should be read in every high school curriculum. It is a real American history: dirty, chaotic, secret filled. It is an important reminder that our history is not is as clean as we would like. The author deals with the reality of complicated family relationships and offers a unique perspective on race relations and what it means to be black.

 

Title: Letter to a Christian Nation

Author: Sam Harris

Date Finished: 2/15

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: This book is incredible and should be required reading for everyone in the modern era, Christians and non-believers alike. Harris makes rational arguments against religion, not just Christianity , despite the title. If you are a believer, you shouldn’t be afraid to listen to the opposition. If you aren’t a believer, this book can help you articulates solid reasons that we should all be opposed to the destructive, hateful force of organized religion.

 

Title: My Very End of the Universe

Author: Chris Bower, Margaret Patton Chapman, Tiff Holland, Meg Pokrass, and Aaron Teel

Date Finished: 2/19

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: This collection was OK, but not as great as I had hoped. The idea behind it was novels written in flash fiction. So, you could read each tiny chapter as an independent story or read the whole thing. That made each read one a bit like Mrs. Bridge, but at a lesser degree of writing talent. I loved the Aaron Teel story. The Margaret Patton Chapman and Tiff Holland stories were fairly interesting, but the other two didn’t really do anything for me.

 

Title: Diary

Author: Chuck Palahniuk

Date Finished: 2/24

Finished: No

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes: I was engrossed in the first third of the story, but then it became too chaotic and non-sensical. It felt uncomfortable to read, even though I normally really like stories with a small surreal element. Technically I finished it, but I skimmed through the last 50 pages or so because I wanted to be done with it but didn’t want to totally abandon it.

 

Title: The Marriage Plot

Author: Jeffrey Eugenides

Date Finished: 2/28

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: This book has been criticized for being too high brow because of all the references and allusions. I adored it! It was like taking a college literature class while reading a clever story with a great twist on a traditional story line. It’s incredibly relatable from a female perspective and I always enjoy the realism and insight from books that provide different points of view on the same events. I will probably read this book again.

Quotes: What exquisite guilt she felt, wickedly enjoying narrative.

 

Title: The Borrower

Author: Rebecca Makkai

Date Finished: 3/28

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: This book spoke to me on many levels – references to all my favorite childhood books, Russians, a librarians, criticism of fundamentalist Christians. It has a fast-moving plot that offers political commentary in a non-preachy, organic way. This is a fine line for me and I’ve abandoned several books because they crossed the line, but Makkai handled it perfectly. A problem with the audio book version – the narrator’s voice irritated me, especially because she didn’t pronounce Russian words correctly, which isn’t a fair criticism of the book, but still worth noting. Her voice felt so childish at times, and maybe that’s fine because the protagonist was barely out of college, but I didn’t like it.

 

Title: Sapiens

Author: Yuval Noah Harari

Date Finished: 4/10

Finished: No 

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: I loved this book. It has so many unique insights into topics that we have learned over and over in school. There’s history, psychology, sociology, philosophy, hard science. You will learn so much about the world we live in.  But it’s dense. I couldn’t finish it in 3 weeks before I had to return it to the library. I’m going to get my own copy because there was so much I wanted to underline and come back to and talk about with everyone I know.

 

Title: Flat Broke with Two Goats

Author: Jennifer McGaha

Date Finished: 4/16

Finished: No 

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 3

Notes: Wow, the author of this book is incredibly tone deaf. She tries to make her readers think her life has been so hard, but all of her issues are self-imposed and easily avoidable. She learned nothing from her experiences and admittedly kept making the same bad decisions over and over. I also thought I was reading two entirely different books – the first half about being broke and the second about homesteading.

 

Title: Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Author: Caroline Fraser

Date Finished: 4/20

Finished: No

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: Like Sapiens, this book has it all and I need to get my own copy to finish it. American history, climate change, sociology. I think every high school kid should read this book. It presents so much critical information in a far more interesting format than a straight textbook. And don’t be deterred by any perceived association to the Little House on the Prairie. Even if you couldn’t stand those books, you should give this a try.

 

Title: Department of Speculation

Author: Jenny Offill

Date Finished: 5/16

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio and Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 10 

Notes: This book was beautiful. Love, love, love. Perhaps it was like reading the Amity Gaige stories last year after my breakup – right place, right time – but the main story of the relationship in this book spoke to me. Very touching. It’s a short book, so short that I listened to it in a few hours, and then got the book out of the library and read it again the next day. It made me feel good.

Quotes: Out of dark waters, this.

 

Title: The Social Animal

Author: David Brooks

Date Finished: 5/28

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: I didn’t like this book at first. The narrative approach to brain science and sociology offered by this book seemed a little hokey to me. But the insights and lessons were so interesting that I got into it. It’s worth a listen by anyone who wants to have better relationships of any kind: romantic, business, friends, family. It encourages you to consideration motivations of yourself and others and not make snap judgments.

 

Title: All the Lives I Want

Author: Alana Massey

Date Finished: 5/29

Finished: No

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 9 

Notes: I really like Alana Massey. Everything from my formative years, but in more depth and expressed in a more meaningful way. Even if you aren’t into celebrity culture, you’ll enjoy this book.

 

Title: When We Were Orphans

Author: Kazuo Ishiguro

Date Finished: 6/4

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: I adore Ishiguro and always like an unreliable narrator, but this was my least favorite of his books. It was too classically detective genre for me, which isn’t a genre I enjoy. The main setting of the novel – the international settlement in Shanghai in the early 1900s – held my interest because it’s not a place or circumstance I’ve put any thought into, but besides that, I was really only going through the motions with this book.

 

Title: How to Fall in Love With Anyone

Author: Mandy Len Cantron

Date Finished: 6/18

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes: I thought I would like this book much more than I did, but it crossed the line too much between self-help and memoir. Memoir interests me, self-help does not. Even the “memoir” parts focused too much on other people’s lives, her parents and grandparents, for example. I just wasn’t interested. The author’s relationship with Kevin in the early years made me cringe. I supposed that’s because I’m older and see how messed up it was. We’ve all been in similar relationships, but I don’t think the author did a very good job of presenting lessons-learned from it and showing that it’s not healthy and it’s the type of relationship women should not put up with. The rest of her own story was somewhat interesting and she referenced several authors and books that I respect and enjoy, but overall, I can’t recommend this.

 

Title: Educated

Author: Tara Westover

Date Finished: 6/19

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: This book made me sit and think for a long time about how bizarre it would be to grow up in the United States with none of the shared culture knowledge and 100% limited to what your insane parents’ view of the world is. The author didn’t go to school and wasn’t really even homeschooled, and so she entered college with no information at all about the history of our country and all the relations of the people in it. It’s mind boggling. She was a blank slate, and she also didn’t know how to interact with anyone around her. Yet somehow, she succeeded, overcoming decades of brainwashing and indoctrination at the hands of her fundamentalist family. Tara’s story is, unfortunately, a crucial component of the American experience and I think everyone should read this book. She got out, but how many young women (and men) in Amish, LDS, Mennonite, Orthodox Jewish, and other fundamentalist religious or even secular survivalist, antigovernment families don’t? More than we’ll ever know.

 

Title: Look Alive Out There

Author: Sloane Crosley

Date Finished: 6/20 

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: I went straight through this one in a single day. I knew I would because I loved Crosley’s previous books of essays. I didn’t care too much for her novel, so I was thrilled that she came out with another book of essays. It’s been too long since I’ve feasted on her dry humor and wit. This book features essays of various lengths from different points in her life. All of them are relatable and made me laugh out loud. I especially enjoyed the little dig at people from Boulder and their mystical beliefs.

 

Title: Fresh Complaint

Author: Jeffrey Eugenides

Date Finished: 6/25 

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: As with most short story collections, this was fairly hit or miss. Some stories were truly boring and some were fascinating. Some were gross. Some weirded me out. I like how some characters were from his novels, and he gave us a glimpse into a different aspect of that character, yet if you hadn’t read the novel, you could still appreciate the story. I also like that these were all complete stories, not vignettes that trailed off or seemed to end at a meaningless point.

 

Title: Townie, A Memoir

Author: Andre Debus III

Date Finished: 6/30

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: I never would have imagined that Debus had such a violent youth. Well, I never imagined anything about him because I never put any thought into him, other than that I love The House of Sand and Fog. But I enjoy hearing about unexpected experiences and paths to becoming a writer. I did think the book could have been significantly shorter. It seemed that I was hearing the same vignettes over and over again about bar fights, and sometimes I didn’t understand why he was telling us certain things. What was most interesting was the message that you are always who you are, no matter how you change. The first 18 years of your life are so formative that it’s hard to shake off, no matter how completely opposite of a direction later life takes you in. You have to resist hard to maintain your new self.

 

Books I Started But Didn’t Get Far Enough Into to Rate Before I Quit: Electric Dreams (Philip K Dick), Den of Lions (Terry Anderson), A Manual For Cleaning Women (Lucia Berlin), Do Cool Shit (Miki Agarwal), The Oatman Massacre (Brian McGinty), New People (Danzy Senna), The Dispossessed (Ursula Le Guin)

YA Books I Read Quickly as Research for the Novel I Was Working On: Gem and Dixie (Sara Zarr), We Are Okay (Nina LaCour), Camp So-and-So (Mary McCoy), The Upside of Unrequited (Becky Albertalli), Goodbye Days (Jeff Zentner)

3 Comments

  1. Quite an eclectic book reading list . I haven’t read any of these and your reports don’t inspire me either. Daphne du Maurier – gosh that’s really a name from the past !

    Like

    Reply

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