I was really happy to have a bookish month! I spent the last week putting up a site on Goodreads. So if you follow the blog mainly for the book posts, you can go there instead! I will continue to post book reviews here as usual, and copy them over to Goodreads monthly. I posted the books I read for some time prior to starting this blog, so it’s a very real snapshot of my reading tastes. Over time I hope to put up some reading lists, and share recommendations with other readers. If you are on Goodreads, I’d love it if you’d add me! If you’re not on Goodreads, you can still view the site.
I am happy to report I read two books on my Reading Down the House list (the pile of books I bought and shelved and never read.) The books I read from my in-house list since the start of the challenge were:
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
Turtle Diary – Russell Hoban
Cloud of Bone – Bernice Morgan
Aquamarine – Carol Anshaw
In the Pleasure Groove – John Taylor
Going Out – Scarlett Thomas
This month I read Maggie and Me by Damian Barr and Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martell. I’ve now read 8 of the 17 books on my shelf, leaving me with 9 more to read in the 9 months before year-end. So I feel I’m caught up now.
Maggie and Me is the autobiography of a UK journalist I’d never heard of, Damian Barr. It captured my attention because of the book cover and the premise. How could a little boy have been inspired by Margaret Thatcher during her tenure as PM?
Damian came from a hard-knocks childhood. You could even compare it to Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes – it was that grim! He grew up hearing all the adults in his life cursing at Ms. Thatcher and her draconian policies. His life would have been hard enough in his Scottish steel town council flats without the abuse that was heaped on him as a result of “acting gay.” His daily life bounced from neglect to horrific abuse to the joy of having a gay best friend his own age.
The book ends when the author reaches the age of 33 and has long since flown the coop on his personal history. If you enjoy rags-to-riches stories and LGBTQ memoirs, add this to your reading list. I’ll leave you to find the link to Maggie T!
I was afraid to read Beatrice and Virgil. I bought it at a used book sale when my friend highly recommended it. She said it would make me angry but it would be worth it. I was up for the challenge. It is metafiction with an interesting backstory. Yann Martell wrote The Life of Pi, in which wild animals have symbolic roles. Beatrice and Virgil starts with the tale of an author who had recently written a successful book, and had begun a second book, which was to be an allegory about the Holocaust and an accompanying essay. It was rejected by his publisher, and the author is set adrift, no longer wanting to write anything. It is possible that Yann Martell actually had this experience, or he wanted people to think so in the run-up to this book’s release. In the novel, the author, Henry, becomes intrigued by a fan who wants help with a manuscript he’s writing. Henry quickly realizes that the fan is writing a play which happens to be…an allegory about the Holocaust. The fan reveals nothing about his personal life. All we know is that he’s an eccentric taxidermist and this play is his life’s work.
The last 13 pages of this book nauseated and outraged me. Not because the author (or the playwright) was trying to shock, but because real decisions by real people were described.
I agree with my friend about the worthiness of the book’s message. It raised so many questions about literature and history. As Mr. Martell asked in interviews, why is the Holocaust always reconstructed as an historical narrative? Why are we supposed to memorialize horrific events always in the same way? Why is there so rarely any poetic license? Why can’t we tell the story through animals or science fiction or mock-documentaries? Why are there “sacred cows” in literature? What are the limits of intellectual freedom?
I read five books from the library this month, which were all over the place in theme and style.
The Checklist Manifesto was a delight to read for this exacting blogger, as you might have guessed! The author is a surgeon and health educator who studied best practices in hospitals. He found that of all techniques to improve accuracy, checklists worked best! The book gives enthralling life-and-death situations in medicine and in aviation where using a checklist makes all the difference. For example, if a plane is losing altitude, the pilot and co-pilot have a checklist of steps to correct the likeliest causes and prepare for an emergency landing. The medical gore in the book might be a bit strong for some, but I loved this book!
Believe it or not, I read a book called The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: an Investigation into the Scapegoating of Canada’s Grey Seal. Canada is abhorred internationally for the seal hunt and I wanted to find out the facts. Are seals a threatened or an abundant species? If they are abundant, why don’t we eat them? Does the amount of fish they eat impact the recovery of cod stocks? Is using a gun rather than a hakapik to kill a seal more humane? Is there still a market for seal products? Unfortunately the book did have a bias, as I might have guessed from the title. While lots of scientific papers and political actions were analyzed, I came away not knowing many answers. It appears that neither scientists nor fishers really know what seals eat, especially what percentage is cod. And there is little agreement on what a normal-sized seal population is. Vegan readers can cover their eyes instead of reading this sentence, but I support Aboriginal and family hunters who use the whole animal. Otherwise, I was left with no answers except: the whole seal is not used by the commercial hunt, and there is a very small remaining market for seal products, so economics may take care of the argument.
I read the e-book Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. I hoped it would contain some memory tips, but only one technique was taught. Although the author didn’t say so outright, he was making a statement that only one technique works. The author profiles several people who are either memory champions, or have extreme memory deficits, and what their lives are like. He also writes about how reading and learning have changed over the centuries, and using memorization is no longer valued. The rest of the book was about how the author trained to compete in a national memory competition, to prove that an average person could do it.
I read an exceptional graphic novel this month, Level Up by Gene Luen Yang. A young man seems to love nothing except video games. He promises his father he’ll go to medical school, and his mother effectively forces him to follow through. His heart isn’t in it, and he leaves school to pursue professional gaming. The novel has a couple of plot twists and an unexpected (to me) ending. Of course, it is about following your own path in life. So many young folks don’t know what their path is, but they find one anyway, often with good results.
Finally, I read Eleanor and Park, a young adult bestseller by Rainbow Rowell. I thought the author did a spectacular job of capturing the joy and the awkwardness of first love, and the conflicting feelings that arise. Every day Eleanor thinks Park won’t love her the next day, and Park worries that Eleanor will disappear. What I liked best is that both knew their relationship mightn’t last, so they were always living in the moment. The book had two serious sub-plots, one involving a father-son relationship, and one about family violence. But mostly it is about transformative love, so how can I not recommend it!? (I loved it).
What have you been reading? Feel free to link to your latest book round-up in the comments.