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Saturday, August 31, 2013

End of the Season--Reading Round Up

Well, here we are poised on the cusp of a whole new month, and the "unofficial" start of fall here in the States--Labor Day weekend. During which I will be, as usual, laboring. Ha.

I was thinking this morning of the books I've read this summer, the summer of rain, rain, and more rain. I've spent more time than usual indoors this year, getting cozy with either books or tv shows that provide some escape from the crappy weather. Here are some of the highlights of my summer reading list for anyone that might be interested:

Books:

Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day by Diane Ackerman.

This is a truly lovely, well written book done in my favorite format with regard to nature writing: essay-like chapters with subject matter arranged according to the wheel of the year. Each chapter flows beautifully into the next, with a keen eye for the wonder of the changing seasons outside the author's front door. Confession: I haven't finished this book; I've been saving the "fall" and "winter" chapters to read in the coming seasons. I plan to savor each one, and consider them a treat to be doled out slowly as the year unfolds outside my window. Highly recommended.

Switch: how to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

Wow. That about sums up my feelings about this book. Ordinarily a book that is classified as "management and leadership" wouldn't ever catch my eye. I think I only found this book because I got a free sample of it on my new e-reader tablet, and once I was a few pages in I was fascinated.  This is an insightful exploration of how the rational mind and emotional mind are often in conflict. Overcoming this conflict (whether it's inside of an individual, group, or corporation) can bring about big changes, fast. Applied in the right way, the principles can lead to wonderful accomplishments. Some of the examples in this book literally left me with my mouth hanging open. There was a group of villages in Vietnam where a group of mothers were taught ways to make small changes that ended up reducing childhood malnutrion in the villages by 65% in only six months. There was a hospital that reduced deadly medication errors by 47% with a couple of clever (and simple) changes. The entire book was truly inspiring! For a psychology/sociology nerd like myself, this was pure heaven. Four stars!

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

Whew. I admit it. I haven't finished this one, not even close. I'm only halfway in to this massive (840 page) tome. I like it. I really do. The book is about two magicians working to bring back magic to Great Britain in the beginning of the 19th century. They join forces with the government against the French in the Napoleonic Wars, as well as meddling with other affairs closer to home. I especially love the chapters so far about a "thistle haired gentleman" (really a sinister fairy) that is essentially haunting (and driving mad) a young wife and one of her servants in the circles in which Norrell and Strange move. It's a fun read. But. There are about 50 pages worth of footnotes in this book. Footnotes are on practically every page, and they're not much more than rambling observations and minutiae that don't advance the story line any. It breaks up the flow of reading when you constantly have to flip to the back and look up a footnote. And I can't stand to not look them up. So for me, this book feels like a chore to read. I also think it would be a better book for the wintertime. Most of it is set in cold, dark days (in London), giving it a distinctly winter vibe. I may put it aside for now and begin again in November or December.

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus

This is a novel based on a tiny but interesting bit of U.S. history. In an 1854 peace conference with the government of president Ulysses S. Grant, a Cheyenne chief requested a gift of 1000 white women as brides for his men. This book imagines what would have happened if the government had secretly agreed, and gathered volunteers from among women's prisons and mental institutions (promising them pardons and freedom if they agreed to marry a Cheyenne man and stay with the tribe for two years afterward). This is the story of May Dodd, a woman imprisoned in a mental institution by her upper class family for cohabitating with (and bearing illegitimate children for) a lower class man. May jumps at the chance to have her freedom back after two years, and ends up being married to a Cheyenne chief named Little Wolf. The story is told as a series of journal entries and follows May as she and her fellow "volunteers" are secretly gathered from around Chicago and sent by train to the tribal lands of Wyoming to marry the "savages".  The story moves fast, the writing is good, and the research the author did into Native American culture was obviously above average. Not a book that will change your life, but a good late summer read. Three stars.


Has anyone read any good books lately? Or have recommendations for good fall reading?

3 comments:

  1. You got in a lot of wonderful reading this summer, dear Jennifer. I enjoyed a few terrific books as well, my absolute favourite of which was 1940s: The Definitive Sourcebook, which I'm going to be reviewing on my blog in early September. Some other favourites included British Columbia Bizarre by Rosemary Neering, Consuming Passions leisure and Pleasures in Victorian Britain by Judith Flanders, and the 1950s classic (in reprint) What Shall I Wear by Claire McCardell. All of which I'd wholeheartedly recommend.

    Have a stellar long weekend, lovely lady!
    ♥ Jessica

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  2. I am ashamed to say that I haven't read a book in way too long! But now that we are more or less settled in our new area, I hope to make up for lot time. :0) A book I have had for a couple years is Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell. I so want to read it but was afraid it would be a bit cumbersome. Perhaps this winter....

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  3. Hi! Welcome!

    Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is definitely worth reading, but it's definitely a winter read, methinks.

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