Friday, April 21, 2017

Lara's Books of 2017

I've decided to keep a log of the books I read this year.    Keep checking back here for updates as the year goes on (the link will be on the side).    

Books Read 

1/3/17--"Between Parent and Child: Revised and Updated: The Bestselling Classic That Revolutionized Parent-Child Communication" by Dr. Haim G. Ginott

A fairly quick read, I found this book a bit repetitive, but enlightening all the same.   I was especially intrigued by the idea that we need to be careful as parents not to diminish our children's feelings.   It's not wrong to feel angry, jealous, sad, disappointed, or frustrated, and we shouldn't punish them for having the emotions.  Instead we can listen to what they're saying, acknowledge their feelings without judgment, and help them to find acceptable outlets for their negative emotions.   I was also interested by his admonition not to praise children.    I already knew that labels and name-calling were harmful to children, but I had not really thought on the dangers of praising children and how that puts pressure on them to feel like they always have to succeed.  This often leads them to not want to try new things because they are worried that they will not live up to their parent's praise.     I didn't agree with everything Dr. Ginott recommended, especially some of the parts about sexuality, but I would definitely recommend this book to parents looking to improve their communication and relationships with their children.

1/14/17--"The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah
(March 2017 book group selection)

Main characters:  Vianne Rossignol, Isabelle Rossignol (Juliette Gervaise), Gaetan, Antoine Mauriac, Sophie Mauriac, Madame Babbineau (Micheline), Julien (the son), Julien Rossignol (the father).

An emotional WWII tale, I found this book both very engaging and emotionally exhausting to read.  This story juxtaposes the lives of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle,  in France as they endure the hardships of WWII in their own ways.  They both suffer and thrive in different ways and ultimately  find ways to fight back against the horrors of that time and place.  I felt that the story was told a bit choppily and there were a few times that I felt like a plot detail or character wasn't quite believable, but overall it's a beautiful portrayal of the bonds of family and the resilience of the human spirit to overcome.    Definitely have a box of Kleenex nearby!

1/19/17-- "The Buried Giant " by Kazuo Ishiguro

Characters:  Axl, Beatrice, Wistan, Edwin, Querig (the dragon), Sir Gawain.

Is it a fable?  Maybe a fantasy?  Or a retelling of a legend?   I never could quite tell.    This book came highly recommended to me by several people, so I think my expectations were too high.    The story was intriguing....to a point, but I found the characters hard to relate to, the dialogue stilted and repetitious, the plot slow and difficult to follow, and I finished the book with as many questions as when  I started it. And if this tells you anything, I actually spent the first chapter or two of the book wondering if the main characters were anthropomorphized rabbits.    They were not, but it was indicative of the vague, rolling way the story was being told.   Having said all that though, the book has themes that are  thought provoking.   Since finishing it, I've found myself pondering on the role of our memories in relationships, daily life, and forgiveness.    Would I recommend it?   Yes, but only if you promise to call me afterward so we can discuss it more.  :)      

1/26/17--  "The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism" by Naomi Higashida  
(February 2017 book group selection)

Characters:   Naoki (the author)

Written by a thirteen-year-old autistic boy about the challenges of being autistic, this book is unique in every aspect.   The author addresses a series of 58 frequently asked questions that people wonder about the behaviors of those with autism.   Interspersed among his answers to these questions are thought provoking short stories that add even more insight into the workings of his brain.   I do not have close associations with someone with autism, but I found the insights he provided to be eloquently expressed and helpful to consider when interacting with any child who is still learning to communicate effectively.   It also helped me to be more understanding of those in my life who are caregivers for someone with autism.  The challenges that both the autistic person face and the caregiver in seeking understanding from each other is real and not to be diminished, and this book is a tool that I imagine has helped many people in that path.   I recommend this book for anyone seeking greater understanding about how autistic people, and arguably any child who is just learning to connect with their minds and bodies,  see and process the world.

1/28/17--"The Goose Girl " by Shannon Hale (READ-ALOUD WITH MY 11-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER)

Characters:  Ani/Isi, Geric,  Selia, Enna, Conrad, Ungolad, Talone.

I read this young adult book several years ago, but thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity while my 11-year-old, Ellie, was sick for a few days, to read it aloud to her for the first time.    It's a delightful tale of fantasy, adventure, betrayal, growing up, and overcoming adversity.    It starts off slow, but quickly engages you and leaves you rooting for the misplaced heroine all through her adventures and misadventures to claim her rightful place in the palace.  The characters are well-developed and easy to connect with.     And although it has a somewhat predictable ending, the plot has enough twists and turns to keep you engaged until the final pages of the book.   I highly recommend it for a fun, easy read for teens or adults.

2/9/17-- "The Bookseller: A Novel" by Cynthia Swanson
Characters:   Katharyn/Kitty, Lars, Frieda, Missy, Mitch, Michael, Linnea, Mom, Dad.
 (April 2017 book group selection)

This was a quick read for me and had me drawn into the storyline from the first pages, however it left me a little wanting in the end.   Basically, the main character, Kitty, is leading life as a single thirty-something in the 1960's.   Her life isn't exactly what she planned, but it is okay.  Her and her best friend own a bookstore together, she has a great relationship with her parents,  and she finds fulfillment in her life.    Without warning she starts having vivid dreams about an alternate life where she is married to a good man, lives in a big house, and has triplets.  These dream life seems appealing on the surface and she is fascinated by this alternate life, but up close she sees that things aren't all that they are cracked up to be.   As time passes, the lines between her dream life and alternate life continue to blur together and soon she doesn't know what's real and what's not.   It's not super well-written, but I did end up liking it okay and would recommend it for someone looking for a fluff read.

3/15/17--"Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II" by Vicki Constantine Croke

Dang it!   I wrote up a review of this right after I read it and it didn't save, so now I'm trying to recreate after an entire month and it's not near as detailed as I would have liked.

I really enjoyed this book.  It's the story of Billy Williams, an adventurous young British man that goes off to work in the teak forests of Burma.    He has no idea how this adventure will change his life forever, mostly because of the elephants with whom he will be working closely.   I loved learning about the intelligent and complex creatures that elephants are and also getting a glimpse of WWII from a different perspective than I've ever read before.    Billy is a likable enough character, but it's really the elephants that keep this book riveting.    I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys history or animals or both.  



4/20/17--"The Gene: An Intimate History" by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Ever since teaching genetics to a high school level biology homeschool class last fall, I've been interested in diving in a little deeper to understand the science of genetics better.   We had read  "The Double Helix" by James Watson as part of our studies and that whetted my appetite even further.    At about 500 pages of dense scientific information (dense to a non-science person anyway), this book was a bit of a slog to get through, but well worth reading.

The book basically goes through the history of genetics, from ancient times, to Mendel's work with pea plants, to the eugenics of the early 20th century, to the discovery of DNA, to modern work with embryonic stem cells.  It covers important figures, pivotal discoveries, and some of the ethics of genetic studies.   Though it was definitely a slow read for me, it wasn't because it was unnecessarily boring or poorly written, it was often because what he wrote and how he wrote it was quite thought provoking to me.   I kept stopping to reread parts just to understand it better and it was more than a few times that I read parts out loud to my poor husband who sadly did not match my enthusiasm for the subject matter.

  It's clear that the author is not religious, but I actually found my faith strengthened as I read it.   The beautiful simplicity within the mind-boggling complexity of cells is simply too much to have happened by happenstance.    To think that the perfect "ingredients" to create life could have randomly arisen from the elements and eventually evolved into human beings without a divine overseer of it all is too far of a leap for my mind to make.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is how he addresses the ethics of disease.    The technology to eradicate certain diseases from the gene pool is already available, but at what cost?    What is disease really?  What is normal?   Who are we to determine whether a "diseased" person deserves to exist or not?    His story of meeting a teenage girl, Erika, with a devastating genetic disease was especially poignant to me.   The technology is such that her genetic disease could have been diagnosed in-utero and her life terminated before she was even born.   Yet he called her "by far, among the most articulate, introspective teenagers that I have ever encountered."
"Should we consider allowing parents to fully sequence their children’s genomes and potentially terminate pregnancies with such known devastating genetic mutations? We would certainly eliminate Erika’s mutation from the human gene pool—but we would eliminate Erika as well. I will not minimize the enormity of Erika’s suffering, or that of her family—but there is, indubitably, a deep loss in that. To fail to acknowledge the depth of Erika’s anguish is to reveal a flaw in our empathy. But to refuse to acknowledge the price to be paid in this trade-off is to reveal, conversely, a flaw in our humanity."
All in all, it was a beautifully written book that affected me profoundly.   I found myself wanting to discuss it with everyone I met.  Too bad most people look at me blankly when I excitedly start talking about the history of genetics and ethics.   Have you read it?   Give me a call....let's discuss!

5/11/17--"Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race" by Margot Lee Shetterly

Characters:  Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden

I'm one of those people who first saw the movie and was left inspired by those intelligent women who pushed so many boundaries and in the process helped change the racial landscape of America.   I was interested to read their stories more in depth, which is what led me to pick up this book.      

I really wanted to love the book wholeheartedly, but to me, it only came off okay.  The women's stories are as absolutely amazing as the movie portrays them to be and even more so reading more details about them, but the author presented them in a way that came off as a bit disorganized and confusing to me.    It took me more than half the book to be able to start keeping the characters straight and I found the jumping around in time to be exceedingly disorienting as to where in history I was reading about.  

Setting those faults aside, I was intrigued by the subject matter.   I consider myself somewhat well-read and intelligent, but I am embarrassed to admit that I did not realize the details of the whole separate, but equal concept within education and how much it harmed both blacks and whites to maintain two separate educational systems.   Living in Virginia,   I was especially intrigued reading the details of  how the political leaders in Virginia were among the last to embrace de-segregation and to what ridiculous lengths they went to prevent it from happening.   I was also interested reading about how much of the rest of the world viewed America's racism as backwards and unethical.  It was a viewpoint that I had never considered before, but it makes sense considering the mix of skin tones that fill the world.

In conclusion, I was inspired by these women's  intelligence, their ability to work long and hard (their work sounded soooooo tedious!!!), and the grace with which they dealt with the many indignities that faced them because of the color of their skin and their gender.     I wished their stories had been presented a little better, but I'm just glad their stories have been told.   4 stars


On my short list of books to read:

"The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars" by Joel Glenn Brenner
"The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" by Siddhartha Mukherjee
"Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood" by Lisa Damour
"Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less"   by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang












2 comments:

Jennifer McArthur said...

I'm happy to have your opinion on anything----including books! I think it's amazing that you read this much and still manage to do everything else you do. Inspiring!

R said...

That's quite a list. I've never heard of most of them. My reading list is a lot shorter. The biography of President Ezra Taft Benson, the Book of Mormon 1 and 2/3 times, and a few fluff books. I admire your reading choices.

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