November 2016 Reads

Recently I tallied up the number of books I’ve read so far this year. Currently the total is 46, not including the 14 books I’ve read aloud or listened to with my kids as free-reads. I have a friend who posts her reads each month, a post I eagerly anticipate and always enjoy (see her November reads here). I’ve decided to revive my blog and begin doing the same.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – This was the summer selection for the Well Read Mom. I belong to a local group – we discussed this the first week of September. I had a crazy summer and had only listened to 6 of the 37 hours of the audio version of this book at the beginning of August when we were originally supposed to discuss it, but then we postponed it a month so I felt I ought to at least try to finish it (I am the leader of the group so I sort of have an obligation, you know). I finished all but the last 4 hours before we met in September. Last summer we read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy which I thoroughly enjoyed, but this one, not so much. I don’t like reading under pressure, which happened with this book and may well have colored my opinion of it. This month I got it back out and finally listened to those last 4 hours so I could say I finished it. My reading nightmare experience aside, The Brothers Karamazov is a family drama complete with a who-done-it and a lengthy trial. I think Tolstoy got tired of writing it at the end – it just seemed to drop without much resolution. Anna Karenina was far more satisfying throughout. Bottom line: If you want to read a challenging Russian novel, I’d go with Anna Karenina.

All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior – This book is about modern parenting. As in, the intense version. I have friends who parent like this and the mere thought of it makes me tired. In fact, reading this book about how intensely people parent their children was exhausting, which is probably why it got set aside when I started it earlier this year. I tend to be more like the dads in this book, who are fairly pragmatic about what they will and will not do for their kids. That said, I really enjoyed the chapter on adolescence, especially the point about how parents who have their own hobbies find these years far smoother than those who have invested all their time and effort in their kids. When you have a life outside parenting, the occasional “failure” when your kid does something dumb is far less daunting when you have other things that make you happy. All the more reason to read good books…

Working Stiff by Judy Melinek MD – This was a fascinating memoir about a doctor doing autopsies in New York City, including the casualties of 9/11. I didn’t realize that autopsies aren’t limited to what the doctor sees of the body lying on the table – sometimes that information must be paired with evidence collected at the scene to make the final determination of the cause of death. Having worked in quality assurance in some form or other since graduating from college, I found it intriguing how the final answer – murder, suicide, natural causes or unknown – can be pivotal, either to an investigation or to the families looking for answers.

No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by Michelle Segar – As the title says, this book is more about motivation than specific fitness routines. One one hand, the author argues that physical activity can be beneficial even if it is just taking a short walk when you have a few minutes. No formal workout required. That takes a lot of the pressure off. At the same time, the ideas discussed in this book don’t just apply to physical fitness. If your job or lifestyle requires a lot of self-motivation as mine does, this book is a goldmine of strategies to keep you going. That said, I have a completely different attitude toward exercise after reading this book. I’ve been going for more walks, too.

Rising Strong by Brene Brown – I’ve read this book sporadically a chapter at a time over the past year. For some reason, every time I pick it up, it has major eye-openers for whatever I’m facing at the moment. They say each of her books builds on the ideas of the last. Since this is her most recent book, I don’t know if I will go back and read others. This book was very powerful. It completely reframed how I see things, helping me to let them go and move on. If you want to be completely unsettled by having to seriously rethink how you perceive something, this book is for you. I may re-read it just for the exercise of gaining fresh perspective.

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah – This novel is about the resistance movement in France during World War II. This fall I read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr which was okay. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read another novel set in France during World War II with all the horrors that go along with it. This book was completely different – very engaging. I checked it out from the library so I had a deadline, but that was no issue as I finished reading it long before it was due. After this ravishing success, I’m seriously considering Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. That is, when I’m up for another war novel.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – Last April we moved to a new neighborhood after living in the same house for 14 years. This book was described as a feel-good book about grumpy neighbors which I thought my help smooth the bumps of adjusting to a new neighborhood. No grandiose insights, but I did enjoy the story.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (audio version read by the author) – I’ve read several books to get a better understanding of the black experience and history of racism over the last couple of years. Some that stand out include The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. But alas! I was told when I cited them during an online discussion about race that if I really wanted to be informed, I needed to read non-fiction – specifically, this book. It was in my library, and the issue was especially hot in our recent election, so I got it out and began reading. There were so many ironies in this book between his description of his life and what he believes it is like to be a white person and what I’ve seen and experienced as a white person. For instance, Cub Scouts. My boys have both been in Cub Scouts since they were old enough to join and I will say two things: 1) boys are full of energy and the pictures you see of Cub Scouts don’t reflect the chaos that happens in real life, and 2) working with other adults to plan activities and agreeing on how things should be run can sometimes be, well, to borrow a certain phrase, all joy and no fun. As a kid, I always thought “Thou shalt not covet” to be an easy commandment to follow. As an adult, I’ve learned it can sometimes be one of the hardest, one that causes intense pain. Looking at what you think other people have and experience and comparing it to your own is a sure recipe for misery. This book is full of misery. Three and a half hours of it. I think this book is an important read because it expresses what so many feel. That said, I do not think it is the last word on the subject or that it provides any real answers for the racism today. Brene Brown’s Rising Strong is a fitting counterpoint.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – I had previously purchased this when it was featured on Modern Mrs. Darcy‘s daily Kindle Deals. Then I saw she had selected it for her Book Club. A gothic novel sounded like something I should have read in October but I decided November wasn’t too late. The first half of this book is rather slow, and many people give up. At the halfway point, there is a pivotal moment and the rest of the novel is absolutely gripping. I reached that turning point the day before Thanksgiving and had to put it down in order to get all the holiday preparations done. I finished it that evening, and I ever so enjoyed it! I watched the movie version by Alfred Hitchcock that weekend, which is also excellent (and sticks very closely to the book, unlike most movies based on a book).