The Just-for-Me Book Club: New Reviews

For the Just-for-Me Book Club, I solicited book recommendations from bloggers and commenters who visit here often. I had 24 books to look forward to – the following books are numbers 8, 9 and 10!

First up, I read I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest. It was recommended to me by Amanda. This young adult novel had an intriguing premise. Two childhood friends create a graphic novel together. May is devastated by her friend’s death. Suddenly she starts seeing Princess X everywhere – it seems to have gone viral – but no one knew about it except the two of them. Is her friend communicating from beyond the grave? Or was their idea stolen? May tries to get to the bottom of the mystery with the help of two hackers. I liked the strong female character, the platonic relationships with boys, the Seattle setting, and the art (Princess X’s mom, especially!) I had numerous quibbles with the technology as depicted in the book (what teen reboots their laptop after every use?) and some plot problems were solved by the hackers’ genius skills, which were not always explained to the reader. But overall, I like how May persevered for the sake of her lost friendship.

Next I read Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff, which was recommended to me by Mrs. Fever. I knew nothing about Cleopatra other than that she was a queen of Egypt and she had had relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. I have never seen a movie or read another book about her. The book starts with a straight-forward chapter, followed by a description of a key incident (Cleopatra meeting Caesar). From there, it meanders through Cleopatra’s lineage, mostly via incidental mentions and footnotes, while the story of Cleopatra and Caesar continues. The author enjoyed unusual sentence constructions and jokes which meant I had to re-read sentences multiple times. Meanwhile, the book was wonderfully researched. What I liked best was that the author was able to deconstruct the legend of Cleopatra as primarily a seductress, and put her forth as a politically astute ruler. By the end of the book, I knew a lot about royal life in her times, as well as the political climate and the relationship between Egypt and Rome.

Finally, I read Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, which was recommended to me by Laura. Of all the books on my to-read list, this one was the biggest stretch for me. I would never have picked it up on my own. I have no interest in horses or racing. In fact, I am opposed to horse and dog racing. I found it hard to read because of the cruel treatment of the jockeys and other racing world staff, who were treated far worse than the prize animals. However, the book was spectacularly researched and engagingly written. I could not help but admire the dedication of the principals involved, horse and human. It was also a great social record of the 1930s and 40s, especially the role of the media. The author made vivid how Seabiscuit captured the imagination of the people during the Great Depression and the lead-up to WWII. Despite the endless “scratches” (races cancelled at the last minute), the events kept me on the edge of my seat. I was especially impressed by the personal challenges faced by the author during the writing of the book. Recommended!

I continue to be delighted by reading everyone’s choices. In some ways it lets me see into your minds, what interests you and what you value.

Do you ever judge people by what they read or what is on their book shelves?

I am always up for hearing what you’ve read lately (and I won’t hold it against you if your reading is light – there is a place in the world for books of all kinds!)

38 comments

  1. Jen

    This week I finished “The War that Saved my Life” which gave me such a rich sense of England in WWII, and also “Crenshaw” which has really stuck with me.

  2. I don’t know that I judge people by what they read. I may, in ways I’m unaware of. Many of our individual prejudices are blind spots to ourselves, after all. I have a great love of reading, and I read regularly across multiple genres (which seems to throw people – depending on how someone knows me {through my work, my blog, my organizational affiliations, etc}, they often make incorrect assumptions about what I read, based on very limited knowledge of me as a person; sociologically, I find this fascinating), so generally I find that I am most compatible with people who read, period.

    I typically have at least three books I’m working my way through at a time. Currently: 1453, by Roger Crowley; Dear Mrs Fitzsimmons, by Greg Fitzsimmons; and Never Die Alone, by Lisa Jackson. I started An Arsonist’s Guide To Writers’ Homes in New England a couple months ago, but it’s been a molasses read. It’s extremely rare for me to NOT finish a book once I’ve started it, but I’m not sure I’ll make it through that one.

    • I’m with you – I mostly hope THAT people read. I find it fascinating what people like to read, especially the incongruities – so many mild librarians read true crime and watch horror! I find it adds another dimension to what I know about a person, for example, if they are a doctor who reads two romance novels a week. I’m currently reading a book about children’s education written by a friend.

  3. Margie in Toronto

    I do like to peek at other people’s bookshelves – and yes, sometimes I do judge! 🙂

    I have been lucky at the library lately and I am finally caught up (except for the latest book) on Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti series – love those books. I also just finished Louise Penny’s “The Beautiful Mystery” – I’m reading the whole series in order so picked up “How the Light Gets In” today at Indigo. I’ll read that after I finish Ian Hamilton’s latest Ava Lee mystery “The Couturier of Milan: – he is doing a reading tomorrow night at the Reference Library so I’m trying to finish it before his talk.

    When I need a break from novels I dip into the M.F.K. Fisher anthology of all her major pieces – I can read a few essays at a time and then go back to a new novel. I like to have both fiction and non-fiction books on the go at the same time.

    The pile of unread books in my home is truly astounding – and I will get to them all eventually – it’s just that I can rarely resist a new book that catches my eye! It truly is an addiction (but I don’t really want to be cured)!

    • At one point I had read all the books at my house that I bought and neglected, but I have a new pile now! I should read the Louise Penny series. I was looking for new mysteries and tried the first in the Verlaque and Bonnet series, but didn’t like it. I’m also slowly reading a book of short stories by William Trevor.

  4. I don’t think I judge people for what they read (but note when it’s different to my interests more). I also notice people’s CDs and DVDs… and make the same decisions. Better they read than not at all – that is MORE worrying!!

    • Yeah, I mostly like to see what people’s interests are – in books, movies and music. But with library use and streaming (and minimalism), I suppose we won’t own so much any more, and it won’t be viewable!

  5. EcoCatLady

    I don’t judge people by what they read, I’m mostly just impressed by people who are good at reading, since I’m not. But CatMan and I are slowly working our way through Cien Años de Soledad (100 years of Solitude) by
    Gabriel García Marquez. As usual, CatMan reads and I look up the words we don’t know (we’re reading it in Spanish.) So far I’m finding it to be utterly delightful.

    But I just suddenly had an insight into my whole reading “issue” – I like reading in Spanish, or having someone read to me in English, because there’s no expectation that I should do it quickly. In fact, as a small child, I LOVED reading. It wasn’t until about 6th grade or so when I started to hate it because I just couldn’t keep up. I’m not sure what that means, but it is an interesting insight.

    • I like your thoughts about reading and being read to. I just read 100 Years of Solitude in English last year, but I am sure it has more significance in Spanish. I found it hard going but was glad I finished it.

      • EcoCatLady

        That’s very interesting that you found 100 Years of Solitude to be hard going in English. Mostly I’m finding his writing to be quite enjoyable and tinged with humor – it’s a rare sentence that doesn’t leave me chuckling. Maybe some of that gets lost in translation. But the vocabulary is a bit of a challenge – alchemy, gypsies, obscure South American plants and animals…. You know you’re in trouble when you go look up a bunch of words only to discover that you don’t know half of them in English!

  6. I’m just generally judgey. But hey! At least I’m self aware. Lol. Also happy that people are reading, even if it’s light.

    None of these books have grabbed me. I’ve just gone through a patch of not feeling like reading but a memoir of an Iranian girl who moved to England has grabbed me.

    • I am always happy that people are reading! And at work, I enjoy helping people find what they like, not what I like. My reading slowed down these past 2 months with extra work commitments and “required reading” (my in-person book club) but I am starting to get going again.

  7. I try not to judge people by what they read, although I certainly have myself been judged. I am going through a phase when I am NOT reading. I know, that’s worse than being judged for reading trash. It frightens me when you said my recommendation will let you into my mind. 🙂 No, I don’t mind. Really. Well, maybe I do. No, I’m only kidding. But, can’t say it’s not true. I do so like the imagery. So, Welcome!

  8. 1066jq

    I do judge people by what they read, not in a bad way, just another way to categorize them. I’m currently readying Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, Norse Gods by Neil Gaiman and Pomtfret Towers by Angela Thirkell

    • That is a nice array of books! I just started Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. You’re right, I guess I do categorize people into “loves mysteries,” “belongs to a book club,” “always has a gardening book on the go” and so on!

  9. I’m an avid reader and have been intrigued by the books written by author Lisa See. My current read is China Dolls and it’s been great thus far. I do remember the story Seabiscuit from the movie, but I don’t remember reading the book. Great suggestions! 🙂

    • I have read her book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I thought it was well-written and informative but also depressing (not the author’s fault as the culture and times she wrote about made it so). I should read another of her books!

  10. Fiona

    I don’t judge people by what they read but I love finding someone with similar interests and tastes. I’m finally making a concerted effort to read (books) again (as opposed to endless articles online.) I’m reading ‘Where Unerpants Come From’, recommended for me by my school librarian!!

    • That sounds like a good book, Fiona! I am in the mood for some factual, less story-driven nonfiction right now. One of the things I love about working in the library is always being able to find other staff members who share my book tastes!

  11. So glad you ended up liking Seabiscuit. I felt the same way as you when I started, but had heard good things about it so I decided to go ahead and it’s now one of my all-time favorite books. I was thrilled that when I finished I could read a racing form! Hillenbrand in an exception author. Also, I grew up near the Santa Anita racetrack (I learned to drive in their massive parking lot), and also had a couple of fascinating conversations with my mom about Seabiscuit. Her family was totally opposed to horseracing from all sides, and yet they followed Seabiscuit! Also, she and my dad knew the famous jockey, Johnny Longdon (how, I’ll never know) and used to get horse manure from him for their garden!

    Do I judge people by the books they read? Sometimes, but I’m probably guilty of judging them for other things first, whether I know I’m doing it or not.

    • I couldn’t figure out what your connections to the book might be, so thanks for telling me! It certainly was a look into a completely different world for me. At some point I would like to read the rowing book that you recommended as well (Boys in the Boat).

  12. I seriously judge people who doesn’t read and who doesn’t have books in their homes! So strange.

    I read Daniel Woolf A global history of history, for the second time, it is wonderful. Not fiction, I don’t novel, but if you ever want to know the difference between history and History and how it is different around the world at different times, this is a fun and easy read.

    • I’ll have a look at the Daniel Woolf book – it sounds very interesting. I mostly novel 🙂 I feel more comfortable when I walk into a home with books visible, but I try not to judge in case they are avid library borrowers or they read e-books!

  13. Jollyhollybanolly

    I am the same a standard you re: dog and horse racing but I would so very like to read Seabiscuit!

  14. I don’t judge people by what they read. In fact, I admire people who read “heavy” books because 80% of my reading is light (fluffy brain) romance novels. I do enjoy the serious books when I eventually reach for them, I just rarely do

  15. I loved Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and I gave Seabiscuit a try because she wrote it (although like you, I have no interest in horses or racing). I couldn’t stomach it. I didn’t even make it through the background section. Her writing is amazing though and I was even more impressed by it when I read about her medical struggles.

    I’m glad you liked I am Princess X – I didn’t think it was perfect by any means, but an enjoyable read anyway. 🙂 I really appreciate YA books with strong female friendships and no romance; there aren’t enough of them!

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