What I’m Reading, May 2017

May was a relatively light month for reading, a term used loosely since I still read ten books. I don’t even have NaNo or Camp NaNo to blame for this; I’ve just been concentrating on other things this month and trying to make better use of my time. (She says while checking her phone for Magikarp Jump training points.) Here goes!

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde: I wanted to like this book. (This is becoming a theme lately, isn’t it?) The truth is, I loved the last 20% of the book, but reading the first 80% to get there was a huge, confusing drag with not much actually getting resolved in the end. I might read the next book or two, but I won’t actively seek them out. (3 out of 5 security badges)

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari: I listened to this book, an overview of humanity from our pre-Homo Sapiens days to how humans developed things like agriculture, currency, science, and empires. The book also goes beyond humanity on to what we could do with all the things we’ve created. Could we wipe ourselves out? Could we become immortal (or amortal, as the author puts it–that is, immortality barring things like catastrophic accidents)? Can we become cyborgs? There are some parts that could have been less Eurocentric, but overall this was a good read. (4 out of 5 humans)

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn: Oh man. I stayed up past my bedtime to zoom through the end of this book. I’ve read and loved Flynn’s other two books, and this one was no exception. The characters popped right off the page, fascinating as ever, from the main narrator Libby Day to her brother who was serving a prison sentence for murdering his mother and two of his sisters (minus Libby). The pieces of the mystery came together beautifully and gave depth to the story. And the writing, oh the writing, the way Flynn really gets the reader inside the characters’ heads. The only thing I have to add is that the inside of Flynn’s head must be a really disturbing place. (5 out of 5 murders)

When in French: Love in a Second Language by Lauren Collins: I listened to this book. I like memoirs and love languages (not too surprising, considered French was one of my college majors), so this book seemed like a natural read. Personally, I found the discussion of the history of language and culture way more interesting than the author’s own experiences with her life in French. The books switches back and forth between the two, with her own stories wandering away from the point frequently to the point where I often found myself wondering if some of the later stories had a point. Still, this book left me wanting to get back into French and linguistics, which is never a bad thing. (3 out of 5 translations)

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab: This is the final book in the Shades of Magic trilogy, and it is great. As usual with Schwab’s writing, the tension starts at 10 and works its way up even further, the characters change and grow so much throughout the course of the book, and of course the writing itself gives me something to aspire to. This was a wonderful conclusion to an already-great series, and if you haven’t read them already, you need to. (4 out of 5 Inheritors)

The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire by Stephen Kinzer: I listened to this book. The late 19th and early 20th century are one of my huge gaps in US history, in part because that part of my AP history course consisted of me being out on frequent field trips and extracurricular outings. This book helped to fill some of those gaps with the familiar (and unfamiliar) figures while not being too dry. Even though this book was a little hard to listen to at times thanks to all the characters and events, it was still overall well-done, and I got a lot out of it. (4 out of 5 imperialists)

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel: I listened to this book, which tells the story of a man who lived in the woods of Maine without interacting with anyone for over twenty years, not even to let his family know he was still alive. The author does a good job of capturing the story and the character of hermit Chris Knight, who faced a lot of challenges in order to live the way he did. These challenges led some people to become skeptical. How’d he live out in the woods so long without suffering much from the consequences of Maine winters? Or without getting sick or suffering major injury? Spoiler: in the end, it was theft from the cabins in the area that ended his adventure. (4 out of 5 cold nights)

The Shining by Stephen King: I read this book because I apparently own the sequel. This is my second King novel, and I just couldn’t get into it. The writing is good, but there’s not enough going on in the first half of the book and too many flashbacks, making the last quarter of the book come out of nowhere. Still, this is early classic King, so maybe I’ll like the sequel better. (3 out of 5 bad feelings)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: I listened to this book, which tells multiple stories at once. There’s the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman whose cells would eventually become the HeLa cell line used by many scientists today. There’s also the story of Lacks’s family left behind after her death, particularly her daughter, who bonded with the author over the time when this book was written. And then there’s the story of the cells themselves, from the Guy lab to the questions posed by informed consent and profiting from cells and other body matter. The book takes on a lot but does it well, weaving the stories together so there’s not too much to take in at once, even in the science chapters. (4 out of 5 cell lines)

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis: I read this book for my library’s book club and finished it fifteen minutes before the meeting started. (Good thing I live five minutes away, right?) I’m still not sure what to make of it. The book plays with a lot of ideas: free will, alternate history, robots, servitude… it sounded like something I would love. But while the last quarter of the book flew by, I still had to slog through the first 300 pages with really dense writing and slow storytelling. This may have something to do with the fact that I was reading this book a chapter at a time instead of zooming through the book, but even then, reading it chapter by chapter was a slow process. This book is the first of a completed trilogy, and thanks to the end I’m interested enough to pick up the rest of the books… just not in a huge hurry since my to-read list with deadlines is haunting me. (3 out of 5 clackers)

What’s next? I started listening to Timothy Tyson’s The Blood of Emmett Till today. I also plan to start reading The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz tomorrow or the next day so I can count it for the library’s summer reading challenge and because it’s due back at the library in a week. Let’s get on that, self.

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