Sunday, September 06, 2015

Challenge Accepted! July and August Books

The end of the year is coming around fast, and I haven't gotten as far along in the reading challenge as I hoped I'd be by this time. But I'm doing not bad either.

July and August were such busy months with me starting my new job and us moving, so I never got a chance to review my July books. Even now, I'm not sure how much of a proper review I'll be able to write, given the distance in time since I read some of them and the lack of time I have right now to write with.  We are trying to get as many boxes unpacked and put away as possible with this long Labor Day weekend. Three days off work means three days of getting the house closer to the way we want it.

So anyway, let's get on with it, shall we?

July Books

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion (A funny book)
Last year in our book club we read The Rosie Project, and I loved it. It was just a fun, quirky story with delightful characters. The Rosie Effect is the sequel which came out earlier this year (or late last year, can't remember).  It's about Don Tillman, a genetics professor with undiagnosed Aspergers, who falls in love with a very unpredictable and fiercely independent woman called Rosie. This book picks up where the last left off, and it did not disappoint.  It was filled with much of the same awkward, cringeworthy situations, good-natured humor, tear-jerk moments, and heart-warming sentiment that I loved about the first book. I hope there will be a Rosie Book 3. I will definitely read it!

Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (A non-fiction book)
I loved this book. Loved it.

I read about half of The Audacity of Hope and expected this to be much of the same, but it was entirely different. Dreams from My Father is an autobiography, plain and simple. Well, not plain and simple; it's so much more than an autobiography. It's an important commentary about race in America.

Obama starts his book with his youngest memories of childhood, a black boy living with his white mother and white grandparents who grew up listening to stories about his Kenyan father whom he didn't actually meet until he was ten years old.  He takes us through his formative years - a couple of elementary school years in Indonesia, middle and high school in Hawaii, college in California, working in New York and Chicago, and finally his first visit to Kenya.  All through the book he illustrates his struggle as a black man from a white family trying to figure out just who he is and what he was meant for.

While I did get bogged down a bit during the long section about his job as an organizer in Chicago, the whole book felt important, like something that no one is talking about but should. Or perhaps something people are talking about but in the wrong way. I had to take the book very slowly because every chapter left me with something bigger than myself to dwell on and work through. So much that I'm going to have to go back and read it again sometime soon. I don't feel like I can even adequately review the book, because my experience as a white person is so limited and so privileged. All I can say is, whether you like Obama the politician or not is not the issue with this book. This book is entirely unpolitical. It's about a man and his struggle to come into his own and to find himself in a world he never seemed to fit into. It's well-written, thoughtful and careful, and emotionally stirring.

(A side note: What I would've given to see the look on his Kenyan family's faces when their own Barry was announced President of the United States! I imagine them saying, "He's an Obama! He was made for big things!")

August Books

Incognegro by Mat Johnson (A graphic novel)
Like so many books these days, I learned of this one via NPR.  Mat Johnson was being interviewed by Terry Gross on his latest novel, Loving Day, and they referred often to his first graphic novel, Incognegro. I decided that would be my graphic novel.

Only problem was, it's out of print, and all the copies I could find online were running $50-60 bucks. Erm...

But I kept looking and finally found it for $20, and I snatched it right up.

It's the story of a black journalist with such fair skin that he goes undercover as a white man to investigate lynchings. He is tired of the job though and decides it's time to move on - until his boss gives him one last assignment...

I had no idea that a graphic novel could pack such a punch.  The artwork was horrifying, and the story was agonizing. I actually felt sick to my stomach at parts, the reality of recent history making itself plain to me in the gory images of lynchings and the unthinkable things whites did to blacks - and not all that long ago.

This isn't an easy book to get a hold of, but it was really incredible. It's also opened up the world of graphic novels to me. While I doubt I'll be delving straight into Batman any time soon, I have started reading my second graphic novel - to be discussed in September's books!

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison (A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet)
After reading Disgruntled and Dreams from My Father, I started looking for more books written by black authors about black lives.  Toni Morrison's Beloved is one of my favorite books, so when I heard her interviewed (on NPR of course) about her new novel (she's in her eighties!), I got very excited.  Morrison usually writes about the past, and I believe this is her first novel set in the present. It was a little bizarre; it had all the most modern cultural references, but she still wove in the mystical as if it were the practical in the way she so seamlessly does.  

This book is about Bride, a very dark girl ("Sudanese black") born to a fair skinned mother, Sweetness, who couldn't properly love her for her skin tone.  Bride grows up to be a very successful young woman, but the scars of her loveless childhood never really heal. As she tries to assert herself and leave the past behind, she only becomes more and more the child she is fighting to no longer be.  In the meantime, Sweetness watches her daughter keep her cold distance, and it slowly, vaguely occurs to her that "what you do to children matters. And they might never forget."

Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace by William Lobdell (A book with antonyms in the title)
I actually found this book by Googling "books with antonyms in the title". Having just written and published my own deconversion story, I figured it was now safe to read others. I'd kept very clear of any books like this while writing my own for fear of being influenced by them.  I wanted my book to be pure and honest and entirely my own; I didn't want their words and emotions to seep into mine.

It's a good thing I made that my plan, because I found myself nodding and murmuring "uh-huh" and "mm-hmm" the whole way through.  The specifics were different - he became a believer as an adult and was drawn to the Catholic church, and his faith fell apart after years of reporting on corruption in organized religion - but our hearts seemed to have been in the same place and dealing with the same things.

I wrote my book to make others in the same situation feel less alone. Reading this book returned the favor.  I felt after reading it that I was comforted this time around. It was a pretty good feeling.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (A mystery or thriller)
Mysteries and thrillers are not my genre. I don't like being scared, and I don't like suspense.  So Miss Peregrine's is simply going to have to be the book that checks this category off. It's mystery enough to count, I think.

Jacob travels to the island of his beloved grandfather's childhood to unlock the secrets of his grandfather Abe's dying words to him. He has long stopped believing his grandfather's wild and impossible stories, but what he finds on the island changes his life forever.

The book combines authentic vintage photography with a plot line that is interesting, mysterious, and engaging. The unique photography adds enormously to the story line. I picked this up on a whim in the book store, and I really liked it. It's got a few choice words, so it won't be eight-year-old Fifi-worthy just yet, but in a few years, I hope she pulls it from the shelf and loves it. It's a book I look forward to sharing with my wee readers.

To see what else I have read this year:

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