Just-For-Me Book Club, Continued

In November 2016, I collected 24 book recommendations from readers and commenters on this blog, and set about reading them. I have read 17 and have 7 left! I hope to finish them by November 2018 – three are hard to get and I hope to nab them via “interlibrary loan.”

Since my last update, I’ve read 4 books:

  • The Hate U Give – by Angie Thomas
  • A Call to Action – by Jimmy Carter
  • Breath – by Tim Winton
  • Disgrace – by J.M. Coetzee

The Hate U Give is new on my list. A co-worker had suggested another book, then decided I absolutely must read this one instead. It had a holds list at the library in the hundreds, so I bought a copy (it is still hardcover only, but a 40% off bestseller).

The Hate U Give is a young adult novel, but if you are not a big fan of teen fiction, please consider reading it anyway. It is a perfect distillation of what is happening in Black lives today. It rings true to me. The (Black) co-worker who recommended it to me thought it was perfect, not that either of us would deign to speak for everyone.

Starr’s parents refuse to abandon the inner city although their fortunes have improved. She and her brothers attend a private school outside the community, and return to their loving home in the “ghetto” every night. Starr feels she lives a double life, being one of two token Blacks at school, and she’s called “bougie” (bourgeois) by her hometown friends.

Starr accepts a drive home from a party with a childhood friend that she had drifted away from. He is pulled over by police – and shot dead.

The author places this key event in the context of a girl’s life – her family, Black friends, white friends, boyfriend, school and community. As the only witness to the shooting, Starr has a ton of grown-up decisions to make, and she has to weigh her comfort and peace of mind against the voices pulling her in all directions.

Despite the serious theme, it was also funny and touching, especially the family dynamics. The author gently depicts how white friends and boyfriends can be effective allies.

The story was fast-moving, suspenseful, exciting and emotionally satisfying. Brilliant!

A Call to Action is a primer on women’s and girls’ rights by former US president Carter. It was recommended by Keith, who blogs political commentary and is a voice of reason. Carter writes summaries of issues affecting women worldwide, such as child marriage, slavery, prostitution, rape, FGM, and access to education and health care. Each chapter contains references to how world religions – and the patriarchy – have justified these practices. There are quotes from voices of change. Carter explains what his organization, the Carter Center, has done to help.

I liked the humility shown in the book. Jimmy Carter is not only a white man with a lot of power and influence, but also a Southern, Baptist Christian. He is very aware of the harm that his cohort has done to women and girls (collectively if not personally). He has helped in two ways: through advocacy and policy change, and through grass-roots initiatives.

Carter knows that a lot of international work on behalf of women and girls is denied funding because the US government, among others, may not fund projects by groups that support birth control or abortion. I appreciate that he tries to tackle this issue even though he struggles with the need for abortion.

I learned a lot about human rights efforts and how individuals with influence can make a big difference. I wish more men, and women who avoid the label “feminist,” would read this and see how much all people would benefit if all of humankind had the same rights and protections.

Now for Tim Winton’s novel, Breath, recommended by Cathy. What a book! I can’t get it out of my head. As the book begins, a paramedic comes upon a disturbing scene, but it is all in a day’s work. We are taken back to the paramedic’s childhood. Our young lad, Pikelet, lives in the country with his loving, mild, older parents. He takes up with a daredevil friend, Loonie. They eventually meet an extreme surfer who mentors and goads them into acts of bravery and foolishness.

Along the way, Pikelet spends all of his time outdoors, diving in the river, hitching rides to the beach, learning the coastline and the currents. I could smell the peppermint scrub and the salt air. It startlingly brought me back to my own childhood in which I explored the woods and the lakeshore. I have never read a book with such a visceral immersion into the land. It was thrilling.

I felt an impending sense of doom as I kept reading. I couldn’t put the book down. What was it going to be? An accident? A betrayal? I knew somebody’s life would end or be ruined, but whose?

The ensuing events stunned me and I can’t get them off my mind. To be fair, I don’t read horror, true crime or thrillers, so I am easily stunnable. But still!

Breath is not for the faint-of-heart, and you will want to keep your beloved sons constantly in your line of vision after reading this.

Finally, for this round, I read Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, as recommended by Vera.

The early pages of Disgrace come right out of today’s news. A Cape Town professor, David Lurie, initiates what he would call an affair with a vulnerable student. The reader sees it for what it is, rape and the abuse of power. David is surprised when the student gets enough support to file a complaint. He believes himself to be guided by natural and romantic impulses, and that to deny them would be to squash his true nature. Unrepentant, he accepts the academic consequences.

Next we meet David’s adult daughter Lucy, who lives on a homestead in the country. She kennels dogs and sells flowers at the nearby market for cash income. She has a hired hand, a (presumably) Xhosa local, who is mustering his resources to own land and become a farmer in his own right. The disgraced David visits Lucy at a perfect storm of a time, when land and resource struggles are coming to a breaking point.

Then a horrific event happens in which David and Lucy have completely different experiences and reactions. Is it better to fight or to accept the new reality?

The book’s themes include impulse and restraint as shown through David’s sexual desires, retaliation vs “moving on,” and the price of following a dream through to its conclusion. All the while, it is clearly about race relations and the new political reality in post-Apartheid South Africa, both in a literal sense and as a parable.

The beginning of the book is a surprisingly easy read which carries the reader along, then we are plunged into darkness and harsh decisions, and white readers gradually become aware that both David and Lucy embody colonial history, albeit differently. I found the book fascinating, difficult, and very worthwhile.

Thank you to my readers and commenters for challenging me, expanding my horizons and making me a brave reader! I like being “stretched” this way! But I have to admit I followed these with three weeks of very light reading 🙂 – for balance!

Anyone out there read these? What else have you read lately?



  1. Margie in Toronto

    So many good books! I think I’d love to read the one by Jimmy Carter as I have been on a real Non-Fiction kick lately. I can recommend the following:
    “Books for Living” by Will Schwalbe – “Reading is a way to entertain ourselves, but also a way to make sense of the world and to find the answers to life’s questions – big and small”. It is a series of essays that focus on a particular book per chapter – how those books affect and influence us – and how often they help us through a tough time. It introduced me to a number of books & authors who are now on my TBR list.

    “Flaneuse” by Lauren Elkin – Women walk the city in Paris, NY, Tokyo, Venice and London. While I did enjoy this book it wasn’t quite what I expected based on the reviews I had read. Again, it’s more a series of essays about women, real & literary characters, who inhabit(ed) these cities. I am a walker and love to take myself to different parts of my own city and to explore on foot a new city whenever I get the opportunity. While I would welcome hearing what others think after reading it – it didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

    I am now about half my way through “Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. I am really enjoying this book as it turns a lot of our pre-conceived notions (and what he might call our collective myths) on their heads. I’ve found myself saying hmmmmmmm quite a lot! It covers a lot of territory but it is very readable and very thought provoking.

    Can’t wait to read what others have to recommend.

  2. Onevikinggirl

    I read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking fast and slow, and it is changing my life!

  3. Fiona

    Wow! Love your reviews, Dar – and love your readers’ recommendations! I’ve bought ‘Breath’ on my Kindle so that’s next up on my reading list. Adding some of the others to my ‘want to read’ list as well.

  4. I added the South African book to my ‘want to read’ list, having already put the Black Rights book on a few weeks ago. I actually had to google Tim Winton whilst reading, I suspected he was Aussie, and sure enough he was – just the way you wrote about the scenery aroused my suspicions!

    • We are always hearing Tim Winton is one of your greatest writers (along with Peter Carey) but this is the first of his books I’ve read. As for the scenery – I didn’t know there was such a thing as “peppermint scrub”!

  5. Pingback: The Just-for-Me Book Club is Back! | An Exacting Life

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