Friday, February 24, 2017

White Trash - Nancy Isenberg

White Trash
Title: White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
Author: Nancy Isenberg
Publication Date: 6/21/16
Pages: 460
How I Found It: My book club is reading it.
Date Completed: 2/6/17

Summary: "In her groundbreaking history of the class system in America, extending from colonial times to the present, Nancy Isenberg takes on our comforting myths about equality, uncovering the crucial legacy of the ever-present, always embarrassing––if occasionally entertaining––"poor white trash."

What I Thought: This book was so interesting. Dry at points, certainly, but an absolutely fascinating read. I was completely ignorant of class history in our country, particularly in regard to whites. 

Isenberg's research is quite thorough and she starts her history with the very first white settlers on our shores. She then follows the story line of the lowest class of Caucasians through the timeline of American history all the way up to (nearly) modern day. Turns out, the legacy of "white trash" is not new at all in our land. This population has been called a variety of names over the centuries, but they've been here as long as white people have. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu - Joshua Hammer

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu
Title: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts
Author: Joshua Hammer
Publication Date: April 2016
Pages: 280
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: My book club is reading it.
Date Completed: 1/30/17

Summary: Abdel Kader Haidara spent the better part of his life hunting down ancient Arabic texts from around Mali. When Al Qaeda became a threat to the region and the rich history within the documents, Haidara and others launched a massive scheme to preserve their priceless charges.

What I Thought: I have to be honest. I thought I was really going to love this book. The premise seems right up my alley on a lot of levels. In reality, though, I really had a hard time engaging in this one. 

I'm not totally sure why. They story is interesting and there are definitely some exciting moments. I loved reading about the excitement of smuggling or hiding the manuscripts. Earlier, Haidara's search across the country for the manuscripts was very interesting as well.  All the rest, though, I really just was less interested than I wanted to be. I guess I was not expecting such a large amount of historical and political content in the book. It makes total sense. After all, you have to understand why the manuscripts are important and why they needed to be secreted to safety. Still, I felt that Hammer spent more time on the context than the story itself at times. I wanted him to stick more specifically with the manuscripts. In some ways, it felt to me like this was a really important mission, but the story directly surrounding it was not quite good enough for a whole book, so Hammer had to supplement with the geopolitical context. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Movie Monday: Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Film Title: Hidden Figures

Book Title: Hidden Figures 
Release Year: 2016

Summary: "The story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program."

What I Thought: I had the privilege to read Margot Lee Shetterly's book on these amazing women last fall thanks to TLC Book Tours. I was excited to see the movie then and speculated on how it would be executed. The book is great and informative, but I predicted the movie would need to amp up some of the drama in order to engage modern audiences. Thus, I worried the story would become too distorted. 

Since my mom came to town not too long after the movie came out, I actually had the chance to go see this one in theaters. That's such a rare treat for me; we almost never got to the actual movie theater and when we do it's usually the cheap theater months after the movie comes out. So, it was a special afternoon with my mom all around.

Our verdict? 

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Death of the Heart - Elizabeth Bowen

The Death of the Heart
Title: The Death of the Heart
Author: Elizabeth Bowen
Publication Date: 1938
Pages: 418
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 1/29/17

Summary: Thomas and Anna take in his half-sister Portia, much to Anna's dismay. They don't quite know what to do with the girl and the bulk of the novel has them heading off on vacation while she is shipped off to live with a former governess of Anna's.

What I Thought: I started off really well with this book. The opening chapters, which revolved mostly around Anna, were quite interesting to me. This idea of a half-sister-in-law, who also happens to be nearly illegitimate, coming to stay is a great plot line. Portia's presence has clearly upset Anna's regular routine. To me, the dynamic between these two women was the most interesting crux of the novel. It's a complex relationship and, while we start off thinking Anna is the heroine of the tale, Bowen turns the tables as the story goes on. 

Unfortunately, Anna and Thomas largely disappear from the story. We are taken away from their home and their narrative and left with Portia, who bounces around from place to place. Of course, this establishes her emotional state quite well, but, as a reader, I was put off. I invested in Anna and Thomas as characters and their home as the centerpiece of the novel. For whatever reason, I was playing this out as a theatre production in my head and when we completely left behind our set and several of our main characters, my interest in the story was shaken.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Career of Evil - Robert Galbraith

Career of Evil
Title: Career of Evil
Author: Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling)
Publication Date: 10/20/15
Pages: 492
Genre: Thriller / Fiction
How I Found It: I've been reading through this series
Date Completed: 1/26/17

Summary: Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott find themselves embroiled in another ghastly case. This time, though, they seem to be the hunted, rather than the hunters.

What I Thought: As I have said in the past, I am normally not a huge fan of detective novels. I often find them formulaic and focused more on shock-and-awe rather than substance or character development. It continues to be no surprise that J. K. Rowling (writing under the name Robert Galbraith) reverses that trend.

The Cormoran Strike series features Rowling's typical attention to detail and insight into human emotion and action. Her characters are so alive and so complex. In this book particular, I was quite struck by how she uses the smallest moments, gestures, words to advance not only her plot, but her character development. She did this so well in the Harry Potter books as well, so it's not surprising to see her carry that masterful technique over. Still, that sort of work is so rare in writing, much less this genre that it's a real treat.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Under the Net - Iris Murdoch

Under the Net
Title: Under the Net
Author: Iris Murdoch
Publication Date: 1954
Pages: 252
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 1/18/17

Summary: When aspiring writer Jake is evicted, he reconnects with an old crew of friends and becomes mired in their drama.

What I Thought: This was a fun diversion from some of the other books on the 100 Best Novels list. It holds many of the same characteristics - setting, character types, rough plot points, era, etc. - but it has a more unique tone. It's light-hearted in many ways. The characters are fun, but not one-dimensional. 

I must attribute that one some level to the female authorship. I have complained quite a bit about the homogeneity of the Modern Library list. There is so little diversity. Some might count this novel as falling in with that British, mid-century march. However, I do think that the distinct tone is proof of the importance of diverse authorship. Even if much of the structure is the same, different types of people bring different perspectives. It's refreshing as a reader. This book served as a good litmus test for me in that way. Because so many of the other novels have shared characteristics with this one but were written by white men, it was a good way to see if female authorship did, in fact make a difference to me at all. Unsurprisingly, it did. I feel confident in this, too, because I didn't even realize the book was written by a woman until I was at least halfway through and had already developed thoughts about the work.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Passenger - Lisa Lutz

The Passenger
Title: The Passenger
Author: Lisa Lutz
Publication Date: 3/1/16
Pages: 304
Genre: Thriller / Fiction
How I Found It: Nowhere specific - I've just seen people talking about it.
Date Completed: 1/22/17

Summary: Tanya leaves her husband's body at the bottom of the stairs and hits the road, running away from a death once again. Lutz chronicles her attempts to live off the grid and assume one identity after another, always hoping to stay one step ahead of her past.

What I Thought: This one had me riveted from the first line. In fact, I read the first line aloud to Kevin when I started it and specifically said, "Isn't that an awesome first line of a novel?" He, in turn, asked me to add it to his post-MBA reading list. 

Of course, with a suspenseful, great opening, there is always a fear that things will devolve from there. It's a hard task for a book to live up to a great beginning. Lutz accomplished the task easily. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I don't often stay up into the night to finish a book anymore, but I did with this one. I read probably the whole second half in one sitting before falling asleep. I needed to know what happened.