Book Challenge Updates

After having to declare that in two weeks I hadn’t checked off a single new box on my 2015 Book Challenges, I’ve now finished three in the past three days.

First, in furtherance of my Literary Birthday challenge, I read Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington. I had known his story since I was a little girl, but can’t swear that I’d ever read it in his own words. What an impressive man; a worthy role model for any age. Despite his experience, he “resolved that I would permit no man, no matter what his colour might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.” He was so forward-thinking and I was inspired by soaking up his words for a few days.

Next, I needed to choose a micro-history on some topic for the Read Harder challenge, and I’d recently seen a blurb for one that was named a Best Science Book of 2014: Proof: The Science of Booze. Impressive in its reporting and interesting in its wordcraft, this traces the history of intoxicating drinks and gives many details about how various firewaters came to be, their effect on cultures around the world and the science of their physiological effects (more confusing than you might expect.) An interesting read.

And then, thanks to another night of insomnia, I finally read (and enjoyed) Albert Camus’ classic The Stranger . A thoughtful novella.

I have other books going (including one that’s printed on actual paper — gasp!) but these three apply to some directed reading goals so I decided to post them as a group.

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Some April Reads

Every time Sunday rolls around, I have this niggling thought that I should be writing a blog post, and somehow it’s slipped anyway. So here I will do a quick fly-by of the books I’ve read so far in April. When the month began I was still in a bit of a hangover from A Little Life, so the next book I turned to on my kindle needed to be something very different that would be a brain-cleanser.

Not to recommend this as great literature, but The Great Zoo of China certainly was a change of pace. Think Jurassic Park, but with dragons. What could possibly go wrong! “No, no, we’ve thought of everything — it’s completely safe.” I was only surprised at how soon it really picked up the adrenaline rush (at around 25%) and wondered how the author could sustain it for 300 more pages. I expected bloodshed but thought it was perhaps a bit too much, and I could have done without the constant profanity, but it definitely held my attention and was a very quick read. The main character wasn’t realistic, but I was rooting for her anyway. (I also wanted to like the dragons, but few of them turned out to be sympathetic creatures.) I did enjoy what seemed to be realistic traits and habits for imaginary creatures (or are they… ?)

My audiobook during this time had been An Unnecessary Woman, a quiet and thoughtful read about a Lebanese woman who has devoted much of her life to translating great works of literature into Arabic, only to box each one up and set it aside when she’s done with it. I really enjoyed this one, and may very well put it in my “re-read someday” stack.

I wouldn’t have picked up my next book had it not been for a new book club meeting at our local public library, led by an English professor, with the sole topic of books nominated for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. The Thing Around Your Neckwas a series of short stories each dealing in some way with the Nigerian experience. Some were told from the perspective of people living there, others of expats but each touched in some way upon modern day Nigeria. I loved them, and the book club meeting, and hope it continues for a long while.

A friend of mine wanted to read Stephen King’s The Running Man and I got through it but found it far too bleak to enjoy. And again, why all the cursing? Even in a broken world I just don’t want to hear that much.

The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God were  thought-provoking and  well done. I kept being reminded of a book I reviewed earlier this year, but found these two to be even better. I’ll admit I was hesitant about reading the sequel, afraid it would disappoint but it did not. I often feel that a series could be just as “finished” if it stopped at the first book. I felt that way about The Hunger Games, for example, and that’s probably true here as well, but the second one was satisfying.

Because I love thoroughly science-y books, I devoured Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from the title, but brought back memories of when I was a teenager and on visits to my grandparents would often accompany my grandfather when he’d be called out at night to perform an autopsy. This book was full of the details that make it real and was well written. I found the chapter on 9/11 particularly disturbing, but I do highly recommend this one.

Not a one of these books apply to any of my book challenges for 2015.