30 August, 2016

(Now past) Mid-year update

It's been quite a while since my last post here. Regularly scheduled long-form blogging doesn't always come to mind as my go-to for sharing thoughts. I do have some updates, however!

Let's cover what I've read in August (I am working on a couple books right now, but it's unlikely I'll finish them before Thursday).

The month started out pretty "meh" and definitely got better from there.

I finished The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell first. This book's a fictional story following an imagined current-day descendant of the Bronte sisters, and her obsessive relationship with their works/lives, and with her own family's odd secrets. This book unfortunately (and likely, intentionally) shares a title with a seminal work of feminist literary theory. Although I found the story fun, the plot "twists" were all very easy to guess. Worst of all, the main character's depiction as a horribly stunted homeschooler who's never had a normal romantic relationship struck me as unnecessary and inaccurate/flat. 2.75/5 stars.

Simultaneously, and shortly thereafter, I finished a small book of political essays called The Future We Want: Radical Ideas for the New Century edited by Sarah Leonard and Bhaskar Sunkara. The premise of this book is to include essays on a number of general political issues (the environment, working life, sexual politics, etc.) from the lens of socialism. This was a useful primer with some interesting concepts discussed in brief overview. This could be helpful for someone who wants to get a taste for socialist ideology, without having a ton of background knowledge. Unfortunately, I found some of the essays simplistic, and others I found to fail the logical argument test. 3/5 stars.

I then completed the first volume of The Underburbs graphic novel by Joe Haley and T.J. Dort. This was a local, signed graphic novel that I picked up a couple years back at Manchester, NH comic-con. It was a cute concept with fun art. The story itself was enjoyable for a quick read, but not something that would engage me long-term. 3/5 stars.

Next, I FINALLY finished Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. I have been trying to complete this book on and off for 8 years, as I bought it at the now-defunct book co-op (Food for Thought Books) out in Amherst, MA when I was completing my undergraduate degree. This book is solid and important for anyone who cares about politics and education, especially alternative education. The difficulty lies in the philosophically dense rhetoric of the book, and the fact that it's a translation (I believe). There are some stunning lines in this book, but it requires review with a fine-toothed comb, which can be quite a challenge given some of the dense language and concepts. 4/5 stars (4.5/5 for concept, 3.5/5 for execution).

Yes, Please by Amy Peohler was the next semi-guilty pleasure read on my list. I've been saving this for a slump since receiving it for Christmas, and some well-timed repeat views of Parks & Rec, plus the re-discovery of the Palin/Clinton SNL sketch from 2008 made me pick this up. This is a lovely, highly readable book. My favorite takeaway: "Treat your career like a bad boyfriend" (e.g. keep in mind that he's likely to tell you he loves you one minute, and then run off with the other girl from the office the next, while making you pick up the tab for his dog's surprise intestinal surgery). In all seriousness though, this is some kick-ass advice. Poehler argues that creativity deserves your devotion and love, but your "career" is just whatever works and makes you money at the time. If you take it less seriously, she argues that you'll ultimately be happier. The only downside to this book was the way it ended. It started out very strong and continued that way for a long time, but the last section felt a bit unfinished. 4/5 stars.

Book number six for the month is the lengthy historical fiction novel The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman. I read this for two reasons: 1) the description on OverDrive mentioned pugilism, prostitution, and ladies kicking ass; 2) I still needed to fulfill my historical fiction challenge for the Read Harder challenge. This book was a slow burn, but ultimately fabulous. I am very glad that I listened to this book as opposed to reading it physically, because the three character perspectives lend themselves well to audiobook, and also listening to it on my commute forced me to stick with it even in the slow sections that I may have struggled with in book format. Ultimately, this is such a win and has convinced me to pick up anything Freeman writes in the future. Fucking gorgeous. 5/5 stars.

Currently, I am about halfway through Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (a non-fiction book on aging and how it's dealt with in the U.S. in the present day), and about a fifth through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. I am enjoying both very much! I am taking Zen slowly so I can really consider the philosophical implications, while I may or may not finish Being Mortal (it's completely dependent on my commuting time the next couple of days, as it's an audiobook).