Jan. 2nd, 2017

Book Report

Jan. 2nd, 2017 08:49 am
Another Book Report already? Having 13 days in a row off work will do that, give you plenty of time to read.

My rating system:
10 – life-changing, an all-time favorite
5 - average
1 – terrible, why did I finish it?

An Undisturbed Peace by Mary Glickman – A work of historical fiction. In the 1830’s, young Abe is sent by his mother to America to escape England’s anti-Semitism and find success. He meets a Native American woman, Dark Water, and falls in love with her – but America’s war against Indians is in full swing and she, and her people, will soon be faced with forced deportation. Dark Water has her own backstory including a true love, Jacob, who is a Black slave from whom she is estranged. This should have added up to a great book, but something about the way it was written was just a bit off. Most of the story is told to Abe as flashbacks – he will go away for a bit, find Dark Water or Jacob again, learn a bit more about what had happened years ago, then it starts over again – more finding someone, more flashbacks to what Abe missed. I found all the flashbacks jarring and the novel didn’t flow well. Grade: 4

You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson – I have to quote from the back cover because it sums the book up so well: “Being a black woman in America means contending with old prejudices and new absurdities every day. Comedian Phoebe Robinson….is ready to take these topics to the page and make you laugh as she does so.” The book is a series of essays, and they are both serious and funny. Robinson calls out the racists and sexists, and does it in a readable and funny way. Grade: 8

Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating by Moira Weigel – Just as the title promises, this is a US-based history of dating. The author looks at the history of sex and love in modern America, and does an admirable job of including all races and sexual orientations. There’s one thing missing from the book, and this is a personal (and maybe unpopular) opinion: the notion that dating can be fun and healthy. When I meet a couple, one of the first things I do is ask how they met. Maybe they “dated” at one point or maybe not, but I think the quest to find someone you really click with can be...kinda cool. This book makes dating sound exhausting, sexist, stupid, shallow. Maybe it is for 90% of the population on most of their dates, and I was crazy to have enjoyed it to an extent, who knows? (Also, apart from that, the book got a little boring at times, so that’s why the grade isn’t higher). Grade: 4

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood – Whenever I do these reviews, I use my own words to talk about the books – but every now and then, I paste in a review I read on the internet if I think I really need to. So this is a novel, perhaps a cross between the horror and dystopian genres. The plot is this: several women are kidnapped and brought to a compound in the middle of nowhere, where their captors keep them under brutal conditions. Yeah, as you can tell, it’s not exactly a joy to read. But it is very literary. Okay, and now some help from a reviewer online since I do want to do the book justice: “It is an unflinching indictment of modern culture and both men and women are accountable. What is the "natural" way of things? Is it for men to subjugate women and women to be sex objects and servants? Wood spins the story almost as an allegory, myth, or fairy-tale, but the message is like a baseball bat to the head. It is important to address some of the harsh truths presented in this story; that women have been complicit in their own enslavement, allowing themselves to be viewed as sex objects, in fact aiding and abetting this with everything from lipstick to plastic surgery. Women aid and abet body-shaming, not just for non-centerfold bodies, but also shame for the very fact of being female; menstruation, childbirth, body hair. In “The Natural Way of Things”, Wood imagines what happens when civilization goes away, when basic needs are threatened. Is our "natural" state more akin to animals? Is our compassion and humanity toward each other enhanced or suppressed? Do our captors become themselves enslaved by the infrastructure/culture they have created?.... “The Natural Way of Things” should be on every Book Club list, but be prepared for controversy, denial and despair. The book does not provide answers, but honest conversation, might.” That sums it up well. Not a pleasant read but certainly unforgettable. Grade: 7

However Long the Night: Molly Melching’s Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph by Aimee Molloy – I mentioned that the above book was not pleasant but was unforgettable. But this book is both pleasant and unforgettable. I first heard about the organization called Tostan when reading “Half the Sky” – the authors of “Half the Sky” said that the work being done by Tostan could eliminate the practice of female genital cutting (FGC) rapidly, similar to how foot binding was done away with within a generation. I’d rather have a root canal than read details about FGC, but somehow this book, “However Long the Night”, is very readable. It details the work done by Tostan and the life of its founder and driving force, Molly Melching. It’s wonderful to read. Melching is a powerhouse. She could’ve been content with an easy life in suburban Illinois but she had a passion for living in new places, learning languages, meeting people. As a college student she ended up in the African country of Senegal in the 1970’s and never left, finding something about the people and their sense of community that clicked with her. She worked with and then founded organizations to help the people, first with literacy and then with empowerment, working to find ways to teach them about human rights and dignity. That work led the communities themselves to learn more about FGC – something that was never openly discussed, just done to every female – to question it, and then to agree to abandon it, community by community. I could go on and on, but I’ll just say that the book flows really well, powered by the very compelling story of Melching’s life and the work she has done. One of those books where I enjoyed every page and felt inspired at the possibilities of real change and progress. Grade: 9

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