January 2016 Reading

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January 2016 Reading

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Jan 1, 2016, 9:34am

Jan 1, 2016, 2:45pm

I'm still reading You Can't Say That by Ken Livingstone and Quiet by Susan Cain, so a good non-fic start to the year!

Jan 4, 2016, 2:50pm

I finished Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence. There were a few passages I could have lived without, especially some of the later descriptions of landscape, but all in all I feel like, even taking Lawrence's narrative with a certain grain of salt, I learned a whole lot about this aspect of World War One and about Middle East history in general. I'm very glad I worked my way through this long version rather than settling for the edited down version published as Revolt in the Desert.

Jan 4, 2016, 3:13pm

I've been trying to get through A Primate's Memoir, and I enjoyed the dabs I read, but I finally realized that the tiny font size and dense pages were making it too uncomfortable to spend much time there. So I gave it up.

Jan 5, 2016, 12:10am

Just finished On the Map by Simon Garfield. A great read for casual mapheads.

Jan 5, 2016, 7:57am

I'm in the middle of Farmacology. A physician is examining the newest understanding of crops ecology and apply it to care of the human body.

Jan 5, 2016, 8:18pm

Finished Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. A frustrating read for someone with Asperger's, but overall fascinating.

Jan 6, 2016, 9:17am

I am slowly working my way through the first volume of Shelby Foote's The Civil War, a narrative. Volume one covers Fort Sumter to Perryville. It's not as readable as The Battle Cry of Freedom and I'm pretty sure my library ebook copy will expire before I finish so I'm going to switch to borrowing a friend's paper copy.

I'm also slowly reading (and savoring) The Givenness of Things by Marilynne Robinson. I love her essays as much as I love her fiction, but as a scientist she's really starting to hurt my feelings in this one. We aren't THAT bad.

Editado: Jan 6, 2016, 9:41am

>10 jfetting: I've been slowly working my way through Absence of Mind by Marilynne Robinson; so slowly I can't even claim to put in in my Currently Reading list. I love the way her mind works and then how she expresses things. She articulates impressions I've had but couldn't find words for. She seems to tease out truth from what other people gloss over. I discovered her last year or maybe 2014 reading When I was a Child I Read Books. Have you read any of her fiction?

Jan 6, 2016, 10:06am

>11 2wonderY:: In the last half of 2015 read Gilead, Home and Lila. Much preferred Home with Lila a close second. For some reason didn't get on too well with Gilead.

Just today finished Peter Longerich's biography of Goebbels and am about to start on The Vital Question by Nick Lane.

Jan 6, 2016, 10:33am

I just finished and reviewed Society of the Spectacle, a book I was long overdue to read. Now I'm embarked on Eccentric Spaces.

Jan 6, 2016, 11:48am

>11 2wonderY: I love her fiction. My favorite is Gilead, but Home, Lila, and Housekeeping are all great too (imo). I read When I was a Child I Read Books when it came out and enjoyed it very much. Haven't read Absence of Mind yet but I'm sure I'll love it.

TL;DR: I'm very much a Marilynne Robinson fangirl.

Jan 6, 2016, 12:59pm

My favourite Marilynne Robinson book is Housekeeping. How I wish she'd write a prequel!

I'm reading The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman.

Jan 6, 2016, 1:12pm

I'm again aiming for one non-fiction a month. January starts with H is for Hawk.

Jan 7, 2016, 2:27am

To start off the New Year, I am reading Understanding the I Ching.

Jan 7, 2016, 7:56am

In the car, I'm listening to The Humor Code.

Jan 7, 2016, 2:42pm

Has anyone read Jenn Sadai's memoirs? I just finished her first and now I'm reading Dirty Secrets of the World's Worst Employee. Very powerful!

Jan 7, 2016, 2:47pm


Jenn Sadai

Jan 7, 2016, 3:33pm

I'm reading Bettyville by George Hodgman

The story of a man who visits his elderly mother and ends up staying to become her caretaker. Poignant and funny.

Jan 8, 2016, 6:28pm

Reading Humboldt: Life On America's Marijuana Frontier by Emily Brady.

Still a "growth" industry.

Jan 9, 2016, 6:33pm

16: I, too, am reading "H is for Hawk" -- a bit ... thorough going (though not exactly "dense"), but very well written! Usually, authors shouldn't read their own stuff, but here she's doing a bang-up job!

21: A friend who was raised in the Midwest himself said he completely identified with the author's background.

Jan 14, 2016, 11:56pm

Just finished Fermat's Enigma by Simon Singh. Even as a non-mathematician, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Jan 15, 2016, 2:29pm

Editado: Jan 15, 2016, 8:42pm

16. I just finished H is for Hawk and found it a very unsettling reading experience. What do you think of it Helenliz?

23. Seajack what do you mean by author's shouldn't read their own stuff?

Editado: Jan 16, 2016, 8:57am

>16 Helenliz: I found H is for Hawk curiously unemotional and I can't recommend it. My comments from my own thread pasted below:

I was a little concerned about picking this one up. Like the author, I too, had lost a beloved father. In my case approaching 12 years ago and it still hurts like I've lost an arm or some other critical part of me. In the last year I'd also lost my mother, and losing the second parent somehow manages to feel like you're loosing the first all over again. So it was with some degree of trepidation that I started this, I thought it might be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I needn't have worried, it was as emotional as a piece of limp lettuce.

It is an odd mismatch of a book. The hawk is something I'd barely be able to recognise if it bit me on the nose. So training of a hawk is something outside my range of experience, meaning that the methods and approaches were interesting. The comparison of her training with that if TE White was intellectually interesting, but I'm not sure that is was a necessary diversion. The contrast was clear, they were both in very different situations, emotionally and in terms of experience. I still don't think it added much to the narrative's direction.

The training of a hawk in response to her father's death is an unusual response to grief, but that doesn't make it any less valid. However, grief is an emotion and there was curiously little of it in this book. I didn't get any sense of the depth of her loss. I found her description of herself as an orphan when her mother remains alive as entirely unjustified. Her mother was noticeably absent throughout the book. I found little in this book that I could recognise from my experience. The only elements were the wish to avoid people and the appointment at the GP with depression. That struck a chord, although we arrived at the same place via different routes into that situation and out of it again.

Maybe I'm not able to review this objectively, maybe I can't see someone else's experience as equally as valid as mine. I can't say I enjoyed it. the writing was good, she can put words together well. But it was curiously unemotional, it barely seemed to flicker from a strange flatness of emotion. I can't recommend it,. I didn't hate it, but I can't say I feel positive towards it either. OK is as good as it gets.

Editado: Jan 17, 2016, 8:26am

>26 KateVz: & >27 Helenliz:. I loved H is for Hawk so I feel compelled to chime in here.

I listened to it on audiobook, and found Helen Macdonald's reading voice to be clear, melodic and almost mesmorizing. >26 KateVz:, I agree that most authors shouldn't read their own writing. They are not professional readers or actors, and most often I find their voices to be odd or distracting, too close or too far from the microphone, they speak too quickly or they mumble, and in the worst cases, they have nose whistles or minor speech impediments. I have learned to steer clear of books read by the author unless highly recommended to me.

>27 Helenliz:, everyone deals with grief in their own way. When unemotional or "suppressed," coming to terms with grief can be difficult. To me, H is for Hawk was at its core an existential examination of how to conquer death, and, as a result, to cope with grief. These ideas arise primarily from the Pulitizer prize winning Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. Macdonald was already a falconer, so she had an idea of how death is part and parcel of that sport, and to control the bird of prey is, to some extent, to give the falconer power over life and death. While grieving her father's death, she sought to train what is thought to be the most difficult of the birds of prey, the goshawk.

The T. H. White sections of the book are an analogy through which the reader can understand White's attempt to control what he viewed as the dark part of his soul through the taming of a fearsome goshawk, and how badly that went for him the more that he tried to deny and suppress his true nature. H is for Hawk, while somewhat sympathetic with White's efforts, starkly contrasts Helen Macdonald's training methods, and her results.

H is for Hawk is accessible on more than one level, but is probably most satisfying to those with a philosophical background.

Jan 17, 2016, 12:10pm

I just read Prison Journal, which I thought was very good. Rinser's experience in prison in Germany near the end of the war as a political prisoner (denounced by a "friend") was an awful experience, starvation (& malnutrition) being the worst problem, the awful cold and filthy conditions (combined with the doctor who did nothing) serving to make life barely liveable for the prisoners. However, living through such an ordeal proved a boon to her, as it opened her eyes and enabled her to see the world, humanity, and herself, far clearer than she had been able to in her previously sheltered middle-class bubble.

Jan 17, 2016, 5:57pm

>28 vwinsloe:
I'm listening to Toni Morrison read her novel, A Mercy, and I can't imagine anyone else telling me the story of 17th C. southern colonial America from the p.s o.v. a young black slave girl, a Native People ditto, a young white woman whose family can't marry her off without shipping her west to "certain death" in Virginia, and an indentured servant from whose voice I haven't heard anything yet.

Morrison is mesmerizing; she reads beautifully in a natural poetic rhythm that makes her words sing.

Last year I chose to listen to Fannie Flagg read her novel, The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion. So much better to listen to Southern fiction read aloud in an authentic Southern voice.

Flagg has just the right light tone and she fluctuates it perfectly to convey irony, sarcasm, despair, etc. but not by acting -- just by intonation.

You can tell, my experiences of author's narrating their own works for recorded books has only been positive. Makes me look forward to listening to more writers read.

Jan 17, 2016, 8:42pm

I'm reading Mary Beard's SPQR and find it just great. That's no surprise based on the several reviews that I've read. Beard explains what we know, what may reasonably surmised, and what we don't know, as she works over the original sources and combines that with other evidence. She covers the period from Rome's founding until 212 CE. I've never read a work with so much historiography that's a pleasure to read as this book.

Editado: Jan 18, 2016, 6:30am

>30 Limelite:. Thanks for the recommendations. As I mentioned, I will listen to books read by the author when they are recommended. I did not keep a list of the many books read by the author that I abandoned because the reading quality was so poor, but works of Frank Herbert and John Updike come immediately to mind.

Jan 18, 2016, 9:57pm

>32 vwinsloe:

We all have different taste. I'd like to hear what you think. I did not enjoy, as a CD recording, a novel by David Balducci. Now, he didn't narrate it (unfortunately?); it was performed by several narrators two acted parts, one read the exposition. You can't imagine a more annoying way to have a thriller presented to your ear.

She: He's got a gun!
He: She said.
Different He: Say hello to the long sleep.
Him Again: He growled, poking the gun under her chin.

And so on.

Editado: Jan 19, 2016, 5:54am

>33 Limelite:. I've never read or listened to David Balducci; thrillers are not my genre. I have listened to a few audiobooks in which different characters were read by various actors (sometimes called "dramatized.") That technique is successful sometimes, such as in an audiobook of The Lord of the Rings that was produced by the BBC. But that technique is not always so well done, and I usually prefer a single reader who is a professional.

Of course, I prefer non-fiction audiobooks, which is why I read this group. I just finished listening to Amy Poehler's Yes Please, which she read herself along with other celebrities and members of her family. The reading was good (of course, she is a professional) and I enjoyed the portions of the book about her growing up and her personal life.

Jan 21, 2016, 11:58pm

I ended up bailing on "H is for Hawk" halfway through. Terrific narration couldn't hold my interest I'm afraid; I wasn't compelled by either a T. H. White bio, nor detailed info on hawk training.

I'm working my way through Rock the Casbah, which started slowly, but later gained traction for me.

Jan 22, 2016, 10:36am

Have to agree totally with your assessment of H is for Hawk.

I'm enjoying Dispatches from Pluto.

Editado: Jan 27, 2016, 8:34am

I'm reading Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz. Love the preface quote to Chapter 1: "It infuriates me to be wrong when I know I'm right" (Moliere)

Jan 26, 2016, 3:08pm

I'm currently reading Joan Rivers' memoir, Still Talking.

Editado: Jan 31, 2016, 5:30pm

Fell victim to a desire for some fluff, and what delivers fluff better than a Southern novel? Borrowed e-book, Simmer and Smoke: A Southern Tale of Grit and Spice is proving to deliver saucy women and prickly wit, which has already hauled the book up the scale of good a notch or two.

How can you not fall for a novel that opens with a funeral service for a hated and cruel uncle whose ashes will be interred along with his sister-in-law's boyfriend's? At $800 a pop just for the burial, Mama had the foresight to buy the extra-large urn and double them up. Mutual enemies in life, they will battle through eternity in a tight space because Mama's needs must.

A debut novel by Peggy Lampman, daughter of Birmingham, scion of Alabama.

Jan 31, 2016, 5:47pm

This month's non-fiction books read were Humboldt: Life On America's Marijuana Frontier by Emily Brady, Travel As A Political Act by Rick Steves, and We Followed Odysseus by Hal Roth.

Jan 31, 2016, 6:28pm

My current reading includes Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, American Dreamers by Michael Kazin, Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, Christendom Destroyed by Mark Greengrass, and Agent of Destiny by John S. D. Eisenhower.

Books finished earlier this month include Those Angry Days by Lynne Olson, The Money Makers: How Roosevelt and Keynes Ended the Depression, Defeated Fascism, and Secured a Prosperous Peace by Eric Rauchway, and Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos.