Monday, August 29, 2016

Recent Reads | August

Two weeks left completely free between switching jobs meant there was plenty of time to start the ever-growing stack of books on my shelves clamoring to be read. I was able to get through eight books this month, just in time to get some much anticipated reads in before the semester picks up again and I have to put reading on the side.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
Everyone and their mother has discussed Rowling's latest addition to the Harry Potter canon from the moment it was released, so I won't spend much time talking about it. I have mostly the same feelings as everyone else - it felt too fan fiction-y at times and the plot was a little contrived, but ultimately it was meant to be seen on the stage and so just reading the notes leaves something to be desired. Overall though, I enjoyed the chance to dive back into the Wizarding World and revisit old characters.

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
I made it my mission last year to read all of Gaiman's books, but a few titles still managed to slip through the cracks, including this one (and Fragile Things, listed below). Anansi Boys is set in the world of American Gods, though knowledge of that book isn't required to understand this one. Anansi Boys centers around two brothers - Charlie and Spider - as they reunite after their father's death. Gaiman's writing was enjoyable as always, but I didn't enjoy this one much as I couldn't get into the characters.

The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker
Kim Barker, the former South Asia Bureau Chief for the Chicago Tribune began her days in Afghanistan entirely clueless as to the horrors and delights awaiting her in the subsequent three years. Her growth into an professionally adept yet personally sloppy reporter gives a human touch to the otherwise foreign events she recounts. The Taliban Shuffle as a book gives plenty of information about the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan even while much of the conflict publicly reported on was in Iraq. For a slightly more humourous approach to the content, I would recommend the movie adaptation Whiskey Tango Foxtrot with Tina Fey.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell tackles the nature of success - are successful people truly outliers or does the answer lie beyond their individual characteristics? - in his third book, in a highly entertaining yet informative manner. Each chapter looks at a specific person or group of people and analyses their cultural backgrounds, the decade or month they were born in, and their level of practice to determine whether outliers truly are outliers or whether there's a key to success hidden amongst them.

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by Jesmyn Ward
James Baldwin's 1963 The Fire Next Time provides a base point for Ward's collection of essays and poems on race in America. Ward's version splits its works into three sections - the past, the present, and the future - with many written in light of the recent high profile deaths of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and others. It's a collection worthwhile of reflection, and it echoes of many of the unheard voices present in the US today.

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman
The second of Gaiman's books I'd previously missed, Fragile Things is as the title suggests - a selection of short works, most of which have been previously published elsewhere. I found the collection to be a mixed bag of goods - some stories were excellent like "Monarch of the Glen" and "How to Talk to Girls at Parties," but others were not as interesting, and some I didn't even finish I was so uninterested. Overall, it was good for fellow Gaiman fans, otherwise I'd suggest some of his more accessible works before this one.

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben
I'm always skeptical of books that rank highly in pop culture because they're usually poorly written fluff pieces, but I'd heard so much about Coben's latest thriller that I gave it a shot - and instantly regretted it. I stuck with it to the end because it was an easy read, but there wasn't much likeable about it. Fool Me Once is about Maya, a woman whose husband has just died and yet whose face shows up on her hidden nanny cam, and her determination to get to the bottom of what's happening. However, I found the plot all over the place, the writing poor, and the twists entirely expected. If you're at all familiar with the thriller genre I'd give this one a pass.

How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran
I picked up a copy of Moran's funny, witty memoir after hearing reviews - good and bad - for over a year and wanted to judge it for myself. I was not a huge fan of her fictional How to Build a Girl so I was worried about this one, but to my surprise I ended up liking How To Be A Woman much more. Moran weaves anecdotes from her personal life into facts and explanations of various facets of feminism, in a way that stays entertaining and interesting even as she dives into not-so-lighthearted topics. I don't agree with everything she writes, as we differ in age and ideology, but it was nonetheless a good read.

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