Monday, February 27, 2017

Recent Reads | February

I begin every month determined to conquer my borrowed library stack and I end every month with a stack even taller. February was no exception; I read 12 books this month and yet my stack grew as much as it lost, and I still have 12 books waiting to be started. I picked a variety of styles to read, from a biography to poetry, history to cultural fiction, faith-based conversation to YA fantasy and old mysteries.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
I saw the movie version of this book first and loved it, but the book is a lot different. While the movie only follows the events preceding John Glenn orbiting the earth, the book covers everything from the late 40s to the early 70s, and explains the lives and roles of the three women more generally than the movie. 

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Rankine's book on what is means to be black in today's America is a powerful reflection of racial tensions that lie beneath the surface of otherwise ordinary interactions. Citizen focuses on the emotional impact of these tensions, revealing how it causes people to change the way they talk, live, and grow. It's not the more comfortable of reads, but it's shocking and informative and I absorbed every page of it.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
After reading and loving Interpreter of Maladies, I gave Lahiri another shot with The NamesakeThe Namesake follows a young Bengali man named Gogol - so named after a Russian author loved by his father - who spends his life grappling with his two cultures and the effect of his unusual name. The recountings of Gogol's love life can feel repetitive, but Lahiri is such a master at crafting characters that you can't help but still sympathise with him.

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
Kendi works his way through the entirety of American history and points out the strains of racist thought present from the beginning through present day. As informative and important as I think this book is, I couldn't help but be disappointed by how biased it is. I was hoping for an even tone throughout, but Kendi seemed to prop up certain people and institutions as complete losses while glossing over the negative qualities of others, and he writes it in a way that you have to already know quite a lot about American history to understand him.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Despite not having read a children's/YA novel in years, after I heard The Girl Who Drank the Moon won the 2017 Newbery Prize I checked it out from the library. I still don't know why I bothered as I didn't really enjoy it, but for those who like young fantasy it would be worth it. The story tells of an old witch who adopts a young girl after she is abandoned in the woods and the ensuing events stemming from the girl's accidental magic.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
The New Jim Crow is by far the best book on racial issues in America that I've ever read. The chapter covers problems like violation of Fourth Amendment rights, relationships between law enforcement and poverty-stricken neighbourhoods, financial relationships between private companies and prisons, and the truth and effects of the War on Drugs on black communities. It packs in loads of cases as evidence, and it's such an important issue that it should be required reading.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
On my read through every du Maurier my local library owns, I naturally had to read Rebecca. I'd read this one in high school but didn't remember much of it so the twists still surprised me. Rebecca tells of a young, naive girl who, wishing to escape her boorish life as a wealthy woman's companion, impulsively married a mysterious older man who was recently widowed after the death of his wife, Rebecca. It's a suspenseful tale with delightful gothic overtones, and is worth every bit of its high reputation.

The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier
I had never heard of this du Maurier work until I saw it on my library's shelves, but it's every bit as good as her other books. After two identical men run into each other by accident in France, they switch lives and attempt to live undetected in their new roles. The Scapegoat, though not strictly a mystery certainly reads like one, as the audience must try to piece together what's happening as it occurs on the page.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
I read this on the tweeted suggestion of Lisa Lucas, and after finishing it I have to say - I think I prefer straightforward books. The Story of My Teeth is one of those works where it's more a series of related fictional essays, and in this case each one focuses on a literary device. It's artful and unique, but I prefer straightforward fiction as opposed to books that are themselves works of creativity.

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
One of my goals for 2017 is to read all of Christie's Miss Marple series, and I'm finally getting a start on it, beginning with the first of the series. I was surprised at the formatting of the book; I expected it to be written from the perspective of Miss Marple but instead it's written from the perspective of the village vicar and Miss Marple is relegated to a supporting role. I have a few more from the series on my shelf waiting to be read, so I'm interested to see how the rest of them are written.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
In the aftermath of the election last year, this book was heralded as an explanation as to why the white working class voted Republican, though after reading it I must say it's been falsely labeled. Hillbilly Elegy is the personal life story of Vance and tells of his own trials and triumphs growing up in Appalachia with an absent father and drug-addicted mother. Vance gives explanations for some social issues but solely for context in his own life. I found it to be extremely informative anecdotally for the white working class life and find the subject material extremely politically relevant, even if it doesn't serve as a be-all-end-all explanation.

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women by Sarah Bessey
I've seen this title floating around and read it on the assumption it was about reconciling Christianity with modern feminism. While Bessey does touch on some modern issues, she instead spends most of the book's 200 pages discussing biblical passages about womanhood and looking at how to better make modern interpretations of the ancient texts within historical context. I found it helpful, as I was better able to understand some of the issues I struggle with in the American church as a whole. I wouldn't recommend it to those looking to understand how the two ideological systems can coexist, but rather for those like me who are dissatisfied with the way American churches handle gender.

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