June 2017 Reads

Another whirlwind month of reading.

Modern Mrs. Darcy has two reading challenges going on this year: Reading for Fun and Reading for Growth. Nevermind the specifics of the challenges – those two categories are a great way to represent the type of reading I do.

Let’s begin with reading for fun.

I read five selections from the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2017 Summer Reading Guide in June, four of which are being discussed by her Book Club. The first was The Dry by Jane Harper which I listened to on audio. Set in Australia in a small town in the desert (hence the title), a man kills his family and then himself. Or so it appears. His best friend from childhood comes back for the funeral and gets wrapped up in re-investigating what happened alongside the local sheriff. Small town politics and history that is never forgotten but not really spoken of either shape this story into a fascinating tale. 5 stars

Beartown by Fredrick Backman is a great pairing with Missoula by Jon Krakauer which I read last month. The novel is a bit slow at the beginning as Backman develops the characters but the time is well spent. This particular plot revolves around a hockey team, but you need not be a hockey fan or even a sports fan to understand. Backman’s account really looks at the issue from all sides. Well done. Must-read. The audio version is excellent. 5 stars

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro is rather short but very satisfying. It is a memoir that focuses more on reflection and less on plot. The audio is read by the author. One of those books that you just want to live in if you could. I loved it. 5 stars

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham is a YA novel about the 1921 riot/massacre in Tulsa, OK with a parallel contemporary storyline. It is very plot-driven and like many YA books, it tries to incorporate all the things. If you want an exciting book that can be read in an afternoon, this may do the trick. I would have preferred more depth and fewer plot lines. 2 stars

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout has generated lots complaining in the MMD Book Club (they just cannot get into the book…), but I loved it. It is a collection of loosely connected short stories. The vignettes give glimpses into life in the town where Lucy Barton (of My Name Is Lucy Barton by the same author) grew up. “Anything is possible” really sums it up. If you think your neighbors are “colorful,” this book will make them seem perhaps a bit more normal than you may have thought. 4 stars

The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout was selected by the Waverly Community Library as the next book group read so I picked it up thinking I might get to know more people in my small town by joining the local book club. It is a Western and much lighter reading than I normally choose. It is also historical fiction, which isn’t my favorite. I told Steve that you can always tell when you’re reading historical fiction vs books written closer to the time in which they are set – historical fiction always has lots of bathroom talk while books written by people who lived in those times never even acknowledge the existence of an outhouse. But I digress. I hope I enjoy the discussion more than I enjoyed the book. 1 star

Now, the reading for growth side of my reading life.

The New World [Vol. III of History of the English Speaking Peoples] by Winston S. Churchill is the history spine for year 8 of the curriculum we use (Ambleside Online). I listened to the last two-thirds of the book this month. I love Churchill’s description of English history and the audio version on Audible is excellent. British history makes American history three-dimensional. You cannot really understand the New World unless you first get to know the Old. 5 stars

A King Condemned: The Trial and Execution of Charles I by C. V. Wedgewood takes a closer look at the weeks leading up to the execution of Charles I by Oliver Cromwell and company. If you’ve ever been part of an organization where there was a controversial change of leadership with lots of turmoil, this book will resonate. Meticulously researched yet very readable, this is a great leadership book, though you will not find it in the Business section of your local bookstore. This book is one of the history readings for year 8 of Ambleside Online. 5 stars

History of King Charles II of England by Jacob Abbott is a free read for year 8 of Ambleside Online. That means it isn’t assigned but is considered well worth your time. It is more about the personal history of King Charles rather than a history of the England at the time. It talks about where he was and what he did as his father, Charles I, was fighting the civil war in England which led to his execution. Charles II tried to take the throne after his father’s death but failed and continued to live in exile until after Cromwell’s death. Once he became king, we’ll just say he got along with Parliament better than his father and lived a fairly peaceful life. This is more along the lines of what I consider a good weekend read. 5 stars

Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis was the Well Read Mom selection last spring that I bailed on. I had started it, then we had company for about a week, and I was unable to get back into it when I picked it back up. So I started it again and listened to one chapter a day during my morning reading time. It is said to be a reworking of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, but it isn’t about the myth directly. The main character is Psyche’s sister who tells about Psyche as she grows up and then disappears, what happens after she is gone, and then how she learns about what really happened to her sister. If you like literature, this one is not to be missed. 5 stars

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis is another Well Read Mom selection from last spring that I skimmed and wanted to revisit. So I listened to one letter per day during my morning reading time and once again enjoyed it immensely. 5 stars

The Holy War by John Bunyan is a tale about the imaginary city of Mansoul and how the evil Diabolus captures it and then loses it back to Emmanuel. Allegorical in the same way as Pilgrim’s Progress (written by the same author), it is interesting to see how little Christianity and human nature have changed over the centuries. Also, very interesting as a “book flight” selection to The Screwtape Letters. It is one of the literature selections for year 8 of Ambleside Online. 5 stars

Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis is another free read from year 8 of our curriculum. I’m not a fan of sci-fi. Steve will occasionally watch sci-fi old enough to be in black-and-white on TV, and I will see part of it if I happen to pass through and stop for a minute to chat while it’s on. He often makes fun of it because it is so simple (sci-fi seems to become outdated very quickly). This book definitely fits in that category. Now that I’ve read it for the story, I’d love to go back and re-read it to see more of the symbolism. There are two more books in the series; I may read them first and then go back. For now, 4 stars.

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. Oh, how I loved this book! If I were to plan my dream vacation, this would be it. Get in the car, stay off the interstate and get to know the country better. Stop to read the historic markers and eat in local cafes. A couple years ago when the kids and I were in Oklahoma for a family reunion, I took the scenic route back – literally driving all the roads between there and home that had those little dots that Randy McNally uses to indicate “scenic” highways. It was so fun to travel for the pleasure of traveling rather than being trapped in the car just so we could get somewhere. I’d love to do a similar trip through New England or along the Lewis and Clark Trail. 5 stars


May 2017 Reads

This month’s list is so long it’s rather embarrassing. With all the summer reading guides coming out in May, I buckled down and finished several books that had been on my nightstand forever (along with several new finds, of course). Now the discipline is over – let the summer reading party begin!

The first book I finished in May was Strangers in their Own Land by Arlie Russel Hochschild. A Berkley sociology professor travels to Louisiana to try to understand why people would “vote against their own interest.” I grew up with conservatives and am a conservative myself, and quite honestly, I felt like a stranger reading this book. No conservative I know thinks the kind of pollution described by Hochschild is okay. That’s not why conservatives don’t like the EPA. I could go on and on about so many things like that in this book, but I won’t. If you’re a conservative and are interested in a glimpse as to how liberals misunderstand conservatives, this book is for you. If you’re a liberal trying to understand conservatives, look elsewhere.

I listened to the audio version of The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin, one of the MMD Book Club selections last summer. It’s the story of a single mother with a boy who poses very mysterious behavior and the doctor who tries to help them. The story intertwines with another family and the unsolved disappearance of their young son. Well written, the twists and turns of the story really pull on your heartstrings.

Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and Justice in a Small College Town was recommended by Laura Tremain of the Sorta Awesome podcast. This was a heavy book, and my husband had to listen to me talk about it. A lot. I’ve had very unpleasant discussions with people who view this issue differently than I do so I will just say this: I think that just as there is first degree murder (premeditated), second degree murder (intentional but not premeditated) and manslaughter (not intentional but the result of irresponsible actions), there also ought to be different levels of rape as defined by the justice system.

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl is one of the books in our curriculum that I pre-read. It’s the story of several guys who build a wooden raft in Peru and sail it to the Pacific islands. The theory is that the people on those islands came there from Peru on similar crafts. The book tells how they learned of the design and built it as well as fascinating accounts of the sea life they observed while at sea. If you like true adventure tales, this is a great read.

Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is another MMD Book Club selection from last summer. I’m not good with Indian names so I listened to the audio version which had multiple narrators and was very well done. It is a multi-generational story that includes immigration. It seems like a bunch of disjointed pieces but they all come together splendidly at the end. Highly recommended.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson was the May MMD Book Club flight selection and a Newberry winner I’ve long wanted to read. It is written in verse and the audiobook (which I listened to) is read by the author. The book contains brief vignettes of growing up black in the 1960’s and 1970’s, giving firsthand glimpses of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement. Some found it slow and gave up, but I enjoyed it. Short but well done.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is a memoir written by a scientist beginning with jobs she worked while she was in school and continuing through her years as a professor. There are some quirky characters in this book. I’ve been exposed to some of this in real life through scientists I know and having worked in the biotech industry. This book makes me smile just thinking about it. I don’t doubt for a minute that the tales she tells are true.

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout is one of the MMD 2017 Summer Book Club reads. In anticipation of reading it, I snagged a copy of My Name is Lucy Barton as I hear Lucy makes an appearance in Strout’s newest book. This book was written in prose but otherwise very similar to Brown Girl Dreaming in that it gave small glimpses into someone’s life – in this case, the relationship between a mother and daughter. I love books about family relationships so this was a hit for me.

I had to wait several months to read Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance (a la library hold queues). The story of a Yale educated lawyer with deep roots in rural Kentucky, it is popular because people are reading it to try and understand how Trump got elected. I don’t know that it answers many questions in that regard, but it is a great corollary to Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates which I listened to last fall.  If you’re interested in issues of race and experiences of the disadvantaged, I highly recommend reading both.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist has been on my nightstand since January. I adored this book. If you’re old enough to understand why people in their 40’s crash their cars for no reason or give up alcohol or faint from lack of sleep and break their cheekbone on their desk and stuff like that (aka they were trying to do too much), this book is the doctor’s prescription. Written from a Christian perspective, it is especially helpful with overcommitments at church and in other areas where you really feel guilty for even thinking of saying no – you’re not just letting down your kids but your faith and everyone else, too.

Napoleon’s Buttons by Penny Le Couteur was another pre-read for school. It looks at discoveries in chemistry from a scientific as well as a historical point of view. You would never think simple molecules could bring about major changes in world history, but they did. Fascinating stuff.

At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider tells the tale of their family’s trip around the world one year. They sold their house, put everything in storage, and traveled with three kids through China, Australia, Africa, Europe and more. I’ve traveled some and while I really like sleeping in my own bed, I will admit this did make me want to see a few things. I’ve always wanted to travel Europe more than I had a chance to during the semester I studied abroad. Oxenreider’s descriptions of New Zealand piqued my interest, too.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien I had read previously, but Well Read Mom is doing Fellowship of the Ring as their June selection and I wanted to re-read it as a prequel to that. I own the books, but having listened to the audiobooks narrated by Rob Inglis, I just couldn’t get into the pages and had to return to the audio (yes, Inglis makes the books that much better!). I listened to The Fellowship of the Ring over Memorial Day weekend and intend to finish the Lord of the Rings trilogy over the summer.

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson was the main selection for the MMD Book Club in May. It is the story of a black girl who attends a private school across town on scholarship and gets accepted into a mentoring program. Oh, my! There were so many things that happened to this dear girl that reminded me of my own experiences in high school – not getting selected for trips I really wanted to go on, getting into big trouble for trite things, the challenge of making friends when you attend a big school and don’t know a soul, etc. I’ve also participated in mentoring programs and have seen both the good and bad sides of those ventures. This book stirred up lots of feelings. A great book for understanding not only the black experience but the human experience as well. Strongly recommended.

Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel is yet another pre-read for school. It is a biography of Galileo written largely from the perspective of letters he received from his daughter who was a nun (unfortunately, his letters to her were destroyed after her death). This gives the perspective of seeing him not just as a scientist and public figure but as father and caretaker of his family as well. I cannot fathom thinking through the math he did to figure out the orbits of the planets and such. And the controversy he faced for those ideas – wow! A very personal look at a very great man.

If you’re interested in an entertaining read about how people don’t get enough sleep these days, The Sleep Revolution by Ariana Huffington might interest you. If you actually want to sleep better at night, your time will likely be spent better elsewhere. I did pick up on one helpful reminder: you sleep better if you exercise. I’ve never had more energy when I exercise (which they always preach), but I have started exercising again and have noticed that I do, indeed, sleep better. So time well spent, I guess.

And last but not least, I started At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon a couple years when I checked it out of the library on a whim. I had to return it before I finished it, and then every time I went to the library, all copies were checked out. I finally snagged a used copy but still didn’t get around to finishing it. It’s a good clean read that feels like a Hallmark mini-series. It took me a bit to get to know the characters again, but I finished it (finally). At the right time and the right place, I’ll probably read more in the series. But right now, I have too many other good things in my reading queue.

Coming up in June:

  • The Dry by Jane Harper {MMD summer book club selection}
  • Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro {from the MMD Summer Reading Guide}
  • Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham {another MMD summer book club selection}
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (after months on the library waitlist!!)