Reading Challenge #30: A Book with Pictures

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Title: Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air

Author: Richard Holmes

How it fulfills the challenge: Besides the normal strategic inserts of color photographs, the text of the book is studded with black and white pictures of hot air balloons, portraits of the balloonists who flew them, and various documents and drawings.

Genre: Nonfiction

Quick Description: A detailed look at the rise of hot air ballooning, with less emphasis on its early history and more on the height of the ballooning craze and time of exploration and exhibition. (1700-1800s mostly). It also deals with the characters and histories of particular balloonists, trying to get at what made them take to the air in the first place.

Highlights: If you’ve ever wanted to get into the head of a historical balloonist, this book will take you there. It’s really great at explaining the time period and the lives of different balloonists. It’s set up for a fairly casual reader but still offers a lot of depth and covers a wide range of time periods and subtopics. The writing, for a book of this type, is fairly engaging–you can tell the author is very passionate about the subject. This could be a problem in a standard biography, but the range of subjects seems to help him keep his objectivity. He regards ballooning itself with something almost like reverence towards something greater or magical, and it’s really interesting to read what balloonists themselves thought about flying.

Low Points: Like many nonfiction books, there were sections that seemed to drag, but that could be because I was reading the book as research. Anything that resembles required reading is just automatically less fun for me.

Goodreads rating: 4 stars. The bottom line is it’s a well-researched book on a very specific, sort of obscure topic.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Read In a Day

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

Let me just say that I’m not really good at reading books in one sitting. I’m not even very good at reading one book at a time. If I’ve “lost” my current book around the house, I’ll just pick up another one. This usually leads to a lot of library books nestled in strange corners of the couch or atop precarious laundry piles or hidden under papers I just took off my desk. I’m also not that focused as a reader, reading for an hour before getting up to do something else and then coming back to my book. Or I’ll switch a chapter on and off with one book with another book or another task. So reading a book in a day for me is very unusual. Here are ten (recent-ish books) that overcame all the odds. Or were very short.

 

Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the English Countryside by Andrea di Robilant

I’ve talked about this book before on the blog, but it sticks in my mind. I read it years ago now, but it was one of the first books in a long time that I felt utterly consumed by. If you’re interested in Italy (and why wouldn’t you be), and you like people who chase down weird family history and/or roses, you should read this.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher

I sat down to read a few pages of this at the library, and didn’t look up until the whole thing was finished. Fun and clever.

My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl

I was just captivated by the stories along with the recipes. One of the better cookbooks I’ve read in a while.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

This book is pretty depressing, but it’s very short and well-written. So that’s something.

Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

I really liked Possession, so when I saw another book by Byatt at the book sale, I knew I needed to read it. It’s definitely nothing like her other work, but it was really interesting and immersive (even if maybe you didn’t want to be immersed in it)

Butter Celebrates! Delicious Recipes for Special Occasions by Rosie Daykin

I read this book quickly, as there wasn’t much to it besides the recipes. I’ve only tried one so far and it didn’t really work out. This is why I get cookbooks from the library instead of buying a bunch of them. But I have hopes for the next recipe anyway.

Patience by Daniel Clowes

Read it fast to get it over with–I didn’t feel like I could not finish the graphic novel since it takes such a short time to read them, but it wasn’t my favorite by a long shot.

French Milk by Lucy Knisley

Another graphic novel, which I read quickly because it was very good.

A-Z of Wedding Style by Kate Bethune

Another very short book, with lots of pictures and white space. I really enjoyed the illustrations though. A good book for people who like fashion.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I’ve done a lot of ranting and raving about this book, but it definitely deserves it. In addition to being a great book, it was also a very quick read.

 

So there’s 10 recent book I’ve managed to complete in a reasonable amount of time without getting too distracted by anything else. What’s the last book you read in a day or in a single sitting? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books on My Spring To-Read List

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

It’s finally warming up here in Idaho. I’ve always liked winter, but the weeks and weeks of snow and below 10 degree weather have been getting to me. Normally, spring is my least favorite season (daylight savings is the worst), but this year I could not be more excited that it has decided to make an appearance. I’m still getting used to the idea that I do not need to take my wool coat with me everywhere I go.

I think for many people spring means getting to go outside again, but for me it means getting to read outside again, which I love to do until the second bug comes near me.

Here are 10 books I plan on reading this season (you know, in between moving and visitors and wedding planning):

  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

Our intrepid book club leader has chosen this book for our March meeting. She was a coxswain for her college rowing team. I’ve never read a lot about crew (or about sports in general), but I’m interested to see where this book goes as the story and time are really interesting.

  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

This is our book for the April book club meeting (at least I think it is. Maybe don’t quote me on this…). I know virtually nothing about it except for what I recently read about it on Goodreads, where it has excellent reviews. It seems to be a book about the Iroquois tribe and the Huron tribe, and is the story a young woman who was captured, her captor, and a missionary who travels with them.

  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

One of our members chose this book for May. I had heard the title of this book before, but I didn’t even realize it was nonfiction until I looked it up today to find the author’s name for this post. This book about Savannah, Georgia seems dark and strange–I can’t wait to read it.

  • The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance by Anders Rydell

I plucked this book off the shelf at the library, and I don’t know anything more about it than the title. But I figured since it has to do with WWII and books, I’m pretty much guaranteed to like it.

  • Nine Folds Makes a Paper Swan by Ruth Gilligan

Another book that I found by chance, this book’s title intrigued me. The story follows members of Ireland’s Jewish community following WWII.

  • Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov

This is the only book from last year’s book club meetings that I haven’t finished yet. Mostly because the little paperback sort of got lost behind all the shiny library hardcovers I plunked in front of it.

  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I don’t know why, but I really want to read this book that has sat on my shelf forever with increasing urgency.

  • The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

I really enjoy reading Isabel Allende’s work, and when I read about this book in the NY Times Book Review, I knew I had to pick it up.

  • In the Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

This is another book I found while strolling down the library’s shelves. It follows a family whose ancestors were shipwrecked on a Caribbean island.

  • Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

This book follows the women in Louis XIV’s life. I’m fascinated with this time period in French history, and I’m always interested to read about the women behind the men.

Have you read any of these books? Do any of them pique your interest like they did mine? And what are you reading this spring? Let me know in the comments.

Reading Challenge #27: A Book with a Title that’s a Character’s Name

Title: Ethan Frome

Author: Edith Wharton

How it fulfills the challenge: This is sort of self-explanatory, but it seems like this kind of title was far more common in days of olde. There are a ton of classics that are named after their protagonists, but there are far fewer that are published now, or at least that’s what a stroll down my library’s bookshelves told me.

Genre: Classic

Quick Description: The story of one New Englander’s tragic life as told from the perspective of an outsider.

Opening line: I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.

In another moment she would step forth into the night, and his eyes, accustomed to the obscurity, would discern her as clearly as though she stood in daylight.

Highlights: Edith Wharton is a master of tragedy and manners. if Jane Austen was a pessimist, she and Wharton would get along very well. Wharton’s writing is immersive and intelligent, as well as remarkably quick-paced for a classic. I also love her introductory statement where she talks about why she chose to write this book and why she wanted it to take this form, which she says is the only thing of value an author* can say in an introduction–a statement about primary aims.

*She refers to “an author” as male rather than female, and I found this very interesting. Either she sees most authors as male, or she aimed this little introduction to be a contrast to men’s (or a certain man’s) statements, which possibly didn’t achieve the things she thought they ought to be doing.

Low Points: Well the whole story is kind of a bummer, really.

Goodreads rating: 4 stars. Probably deserves 5 on the strength of the writing, but it was just too depressing for me to love it enough to give it that rating.

Reading Challenge #5: A Book By a Person of Color

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Title:  Sula

Author: Toni Morrison

How it fulfills the challenge: Toni Morrison is a person of color, and many of her books center on what it is like to be a black woman in America. Sula was nominated for the National Book Award, and her 1987 novel, Beloved, won the Pulitzer prize.

Genre: Fiction

Quick Description: Morrison’s book is a study on the nature of friendship and womanhood. The novel follows Sula and Nel through their lives starting in the 1920s.

Opening line: In that place, where they tore the nightshade and blackberry patches from their roots to make room for the Medallion City Golf Course, there was once a neighborhood.

She had clung to Nel as the closest thing to both an other and a self, only to discover that she and Nel were not one and the same thing.

Highlights: A quick moving, and sometimes shocking portrait of friendship. The drawing of life that it renders is as moving as it is unflinching.

Low Points: More melancholy than uplifting–this isn’t really a low point (just something to keep in mind before reading this book). It’s powerful, but not exactly fun to read.

Goodreads rating: 4 stars. Probably deserves 4.5 because the writing is so good.

Reading Challenge #52: A Book Based on Mythology

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Title: Ragnarok

Author: A.S. Byatt

How it fulfills the challenge: This book is an adaptation of the Norse end of the world myth (Ragnarok)

Genre: Fiction (maybe could be considered fantasy? Literary Fantasy…)

Quick Description: A detailed and almost poetic interpretation of a Norse myth with amazing imagery and a complex look at good and evil, power and weakness, as seen through the eyes of a child obsessed with the story.

Opening line: The thin child thought less (or so it now seems) of where she herself came from, and more about that old question, why is there something rather than nothing?

It began slowly. There were flurries of sharp snow over the fields where the oats and barley were ready to be harvested. There was ice on the desponds at night, when the harvest moon, huge and red, was still in the sky. There was ice on water jugs and an increasing thin, bitter wind that did not let up, so that they became used to keeping their heads hooded and down.

Highlights: Beautifully descriptive and evocative retelling of an ancient myth. My favorite section is on Yggdrasil, the great tree that contains so much life and death.

Low Points: I’m not super familiar with this myth, and Byatt does little to familiarize it. Instead she delights in the strangeness and otherness. It’s a more faithful retelling than other adaptations (or so I’ve read), and it feels older and darker, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not exactly what I was expecting and it was very different from Byatt’s Possession.

Goodreads rating: 4 stars.

Combating “Alternative Facts”

Last month, Ursula Le Guin, author extraordinaire, sent a letter to the Editor of the Oregonian. Someone had just recently published a letter in the newspaper that talked about how politicians using “alternative facts” was no different than science fiction.

Le Guin states that the two things could not be more different. Science fiction is, after all, fiction. Made up. Not real.

In contrast, when people purposefully say things that aren’t true in order to deceive, there’s only one word for that: a lie.

Her letter is short and eloquent (you should definitely read it). But I think it’s so important that as readers and critical thinkers that we demand truth. Because it’s only with real, solid, provable facts that we can make good decisions–no matter your beliefs or politics. We should all demand facts, so that we can move forward. We shouldn’t have to debate what’s real, but rather debate what’s the strategy to make life better.

The United States is a great place. And one of the things that makes us great is a search for truth. Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani recently said, “America’s enemies feared it for dealing in facts while they offered disinformation and conspiracy theories. All that changes when the White House embraces the notion of ‘alternative facts.'”

Facts, as Le Guin says, are hard won. They are discovered and uncovered. They are precious. Our press helps to keep us honest and accountable while our scientists help us move forward and learn more about the world around us. I think it’s so essential that we support good investigative journalism and remember that bad news, news we don’t want to hear, is not necessarily false or fake. We need to remember that getting multiple perspectives, that debate and discussion, are essential to democracy.

If we don’t demand truth and honesty, we can’t say anything when it’s not given to us.

As readers, we’re already primed to take in lots of information and keep open minds. We’re always using our skills to make judgments on whether a narrator is reliable or a story is true. Those same skills can be applied to everyday life, and I think those skills are more essential than they have been in a long time. Even if you’re not very interested in politics, I think it’s important to know what’s going on. That’s how we keep a democracy going–active involvement.

 

Where do you get your news? My favorite TV news program is PBS News Hour, which does a really good job looking at multiple sides of an issue, and my favorite print sources are The New York Times, The Washington Post, and BBC. Let me know your favorite places to get news in the comments!