What have you just finished reading?
Educated by Tara Westover - As of last week I thought maybe her mother was just as much a victim as she was, and didn't completely hate her. As of this week I think her mother might be the most vile character in the whole book, even worse than Shawn. Basically shit hit the fan in this week's section, and the entire family disintegrated into factions: one faction we like and one faction we hate. The mother is firmly in the faction we hate. Tara tells a difficult to read but important story about how education taught her one really important lesson - that being abused is not okay. She spends her time studying feminism and not applying that to herself, but in the end she comes to terms with the fact that she is a person worthy of respect and being treated well. This doesn't play well with her family, who are all abusive assholes, and she loses most of her family in the process. Then she writes a dissertation comparing three 18th century schools of thought including Mormonism as one of them, looking at her religion through historical eyes: neither lionizing nor criticizing it. Just looking at how it fit with the time it was founded. It would have been interesting to see whether she remains faithful after this, or if she leaves the church when she leaves her family.
The Municipalists by Seth Fried - There were absolutely no surprises in this. They had a suspect in the 3rd chapter, and that's who turned out to do it. I think rather than a sci fi thriller this should have been written as a character study. The main character essentially goes from lawful good to neutral good when he realizes his own agency is freezing out poor neighborhoods and refusing to help them, which is kind of the bad guy's point. But it was really weird. The entire book was entirely predictable. At the same time, I neither liked nor disliked it. This may actually be related. There were no surprises that pleased me and no surprises that displeased me. I don't know. I wound up giving it 3 stars, a rating I rarely give, because in the end I didn't care about it really, but I didn't dislike it either.
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson - Leon and his family get sent to a concentration camp from which his father and brother are rescued by Oskar Schindler. The father must have made a heck of an impression on Schindler, because he then decides to hire the younger son and mother, too. The younger son is our author. He is too short to work the machines in the factory, so he has to stand on a wooden box to reach. Nonetheless, Schindler points him out to passing inspectors as "an absolute expert, indispensable." At first he believes it, but then he finds out that he's actually doing about half as much work as even a competent person would be in the timeframe. As the war ends, Schindler has to escape to the American controlled side of Germany because if he stays in the Soviet controlled side, he'll be executed as a nazi officer. Then, the trainload of female Jews who worked at his factory never get to Germany, and he finds out they've been sent to Auschwitz. Risking his own life, he returns to Poland, and bribes these women's way back to a new factory in West Germany. He literally interrupts the selection, and Leon's mother was in the wrong line at the time they announced they were to get back on the train. Had he been mere minutes later, she would have died. The parents and two children survive the war, but two siblings didn't make it. This destroys his parents, and they beg him not to go to Israel where there is likely to be fighting and killing, but rather to come with them to The United States, where he lived until his death in 2013.
What have you just given up on reading?
1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Women's History by Constance Jones - At fewer than 1001 pages, this book was trying to do too much too quickly. Each thing that they thought was important about women's history got like 1/5th of a page. There was never enough time to get into a thing, and I wasn't retaining anything. There's an entire series of these historical books, but I'm glad I only bought the one.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas - The premise of this book was stupid. It's about a poor family, and the girl decides that she is going to leave the ghetto one day. But instead of then putting her nose in some books and getting a scholarship to college, she decides the only way out is to become a famous hip hop artist. What kind of shitty-assed message is this giving to our kids (it's a YA book)? Drop out of school to become a hip hop artist and you will be set for life? Except that doesn't work for the vast majority of people who try it. Do you have any idea how many no name people we will never hear of out there trying to become famous for every person who actually becomes famous? This is terrible!
The New Global History by Bruce Mazlish - This promised me a history of globalization, but it was actually all theory and no history at all. I put it down pretty quickly when I realized it just assumed I knew all about globalization, and just wanted to argue that this is a thing that can be looked at historically.
What are you reading?
Bully for Brontosaurus by Stephen J Gould (48%) - We had a chapter on the Burgess Shale and how everyone thinks it was discovered by accident when a horse lost its footing and slipped on a rock that happened to have all these invertebrate fossils on it. However, it turns out that story isn't true and really the guy who found the Burgess Shale knew exactly what and where he was looking for. He planned the expedition to go there, went there, and discovered exactly what he expected to find. The horse story is more popular because it's plausible, and relies on luck. But really, it's sort of offensive, if you think about it. Then we start a new part of the book. I'm not sure why the book is divided into parts, as the parts seem to have nothing in common with themselves, but here we are in a new part, in a chapter on glow worms and larval forms of insects containing the entire adult form within themselves.
Watership Down by Richard Adams (41%) - Two of the rabbits from the old warren have found them and told them that Fiver was right to tell them to leave. Humans came and gassed the warren, killing almost everybody. Also, they rescued a seagull which is trying to help them find some females, so apparently they're not unaware of the fact that they need some females. I just got there a bit ahead of them. We also got a chapter which was nothing but a story about the rabbits' god. He's an interesting fellow.
The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy: Hogwarts for Muggles by Gregory Bassham (55%) - There was the chapter comparing Dumbledore to Plato, which I apparently got nothing out of whatsoever because I can't even remember what the comparison was. Then we get a chapter on whether Dumbledore is gay, and who's to say. Apparently when JK Rowling announced she had always thought of him as gay, there was a large outcry claiming she had no right to put things into the books that weren't actually in the books. This seems to be the homophobic crowd looking for a way to complain without outright complaining that he's gay, since these same people did not complain when she gave snippets of other characters' lives. We go over different definitions of "truth" and end up with the conclusion that there is no "The Harry Potter Universe." There are as many HP universes as there are fans, and each one is a bit different. Finally, we have a chapter on whether choices are more important in defining you than abilities. This seems painfully obvious to me that the answer is yes, but we apparently have an entire chapter's worth of stuff to say about it.
The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe by Valerie IJ Flint (31%) - Astrology got a makeover and became Christian. Something about the 12 astrological houses being represented by the 12 tribes of Judaism? Also, astrology was one of the least objectionable methods of divination out there, so you may as well allow this one so that you can outlaw the others and tell people "just do that one" instead.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath (46%) - The acronym is SUCCESS which has a lot of Cs and a lot of Ss. So far we've covered Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, and started on Credible. Credible is difficult because you have to borrow credibility from somewhere external. You can, if you're a company, hire a celebrity who seems credible. But if you're like most of us and don't have the funds to hire a celebrity when we want an idea heard, you have to get that credibility from somewhere. The antismoking campaign got it from a woman who smoked from the time she was 10 and got cancer and died in her 30s. Before she died, she was the spokesman for the antismoking campaign, and she was credible because she was a smoker for so long and then got cancer, just like the experts would predict.
Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews by Joseph Telushkin (49%) - So apparently he thinks all the best Soviet dissident jokes were written by or about Jews. I have no idea how he comes to this conclusion, because it's not like all the dissidents were Jews. Also, there's a bit on children marrying outside of the faith, and apparently the punchline is that the parents are going to kill themselves because of it. These aren't very relevant anymore, now that most Jews intermarry, and there is no USSR. This book may be old enough that there still was a USSR when it was published.
Where the Desert Meets the Sea by Werner Sonne and Steve Anderson (translator) (62%) - I looked it up - Werner Sonne is a man. I guess that explains why in this book that is billed as a strong friendship between unlikely women, the men are taking center stage. At this point, enough has happened that I'm starting to be curious about the men, and I want to see how it'll turn out. But I'm still really disappointed that it wasn't a book about a strong female friendship, like I was promised. That promise is likely going to cost the book a whole star when I go about rating it on goodreads. I suspect there is going to be at least one main character death as the brother has been abducted by Arabs, and the Arab woman's ex fiance keeps threatening to kill her.
The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff (51%) - This week the lesson is don't try to do things, just do them naturally, and they will naturally get done. This is demonstrated by Pooh throwing a rock into the river to try to make waves to rescue Eeyore. Eeyore protests that this is a bad idea, but with the first rock thrown, he gets pushed into water where he can stand, and walks out of the river.
Beyond the Point by Claire Gibson (32%) - We do, indeed, have the strong female friendships I was promised in this book. Also, putting them in the class of 2004 was not a mistake. She did wind up having September 11th happen in their sophomore year. As of today's reading, they are graduated from West Point. Along the way we see Dani get injured which is the start of her friendship with Avery. We get a few snapshots of life within West Point, and now they are going to each go their own way, and I guess we'll see what happens to the friendships they forged in the hardest 4 years of their lives.
The Snow Gypsy by Lindsay Jayne Ashford (26%) - The woman who found the child in the snow is a gypsy, and she names her child Nieve, which is the Spanish word for snow, so it's pretty clear who the snow gypsy is. Lola, this woman, and the other main character whose name may be Sarah, have now met and Lola is the only person at the gypsy festival who knows the name of the city Sarah's brother disappeared from. They're enjoying the fiesta, but later Lola is going to take Sarah to the city and see if anyone knew her brother. I predict that Nieve turns out to be Sarah's nephew. This book gives me a second book that passes the bechdel test this week.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (25%) - We've gotten through Part I, which is the story of Dinah's mothers/aunties. Now we've reached Dinah's story. Her mothers' story was alright, but we already knew it, mostly, from reading the Bible, or hanging around Jewish people long enough. Dinah I know almost nothing about, other than the fact that she gets raped, or at least I'm pretty sure that's her. So this should start getting more interesting now. The mothers' relationship with each other gives me another book that passes the bechdel test this week. I think this may be the first time in the history of ever that I've read 3 books that pass the bechdel test at one time. Interestingly, two of them were published in 2019. Are we getting better? Or do amazon and BOTM just do a good job of picking books to suggest that do that?
Russia: History of Russia: Kievan Rus to Vladimir Putin by Ian Maslow (59%) - This book makes some really dumb grammatical errors, including at least once omitting the word "not" and completely changing the meaning of the sentence. It's not often enough to make me put down the book, but it's frequent enough to be annoying. I wonder what's up with that. Did he try to do his own translation, and just wasn't good enough at English? Otherwise this is a really short book for trying to talk about that much history, and is very surface level. I know we don't know much about the Kyivan Rus, so maybe he hit the highlights for that section, but then it's like 10 pages for all of the tsars put together, and 10 pages for the empire all told. Now we're in relatively recent history and we got 10 pages for World War I to World War II, and apparently we're going to get 10 pages just of WWII. I was not expecting this book to be so short.
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (6%) - In the first chapter, someone had a heart attack and died. Then in the second chapter, we start seeing people heading towards this health spa in Australia. Reviews are mixed - people either said it was the best thing to ever happen to them, or the worst. There is no middle ground.
Becoming by Michelle Obama (1%) - Just read the prologue so far. She talks about all the major events of her life and how she feels she has something she wants to share about herself. What that is, I guess we'll find out by reading on.
Early Riser by Jasper Fforde (11%) - I decided to give this another try after someone told me it wasn't scary even though there are zombie things running around. I hope I don't come to regret this. So far we've got the main character who is going to stay awake while humanity hibernates. He has gotten a job, and apparently that was all flashbacks because now he's sitting on the train with the dead woman, which is where we started this book.