An Open Book: What I Read in June

Book covers

Occasionally I find myself immersed in a reading theme without even realizing I’ve done so.

This month, everything was a dive back into history in some way. In fact, I found myself reading Girl at War and listening to First They Killed My Father at the same time, and it felt like the same tragic story taking place in two locations. It made me realize how little we learn from the past, and that, in reality as well as fiction, we tend to revisit the same themes over and over again.

In fiction, I don’t mind so much. But with reality, will we ever learn how to break that cycle?

What’s been on your reading list lately?

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: This fictional account of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, vibrantly describes the couple’s years of living in Paris while the famous author began his writing career. McLain did any excellent job of placing me in the middle of colorful, chaotic, and creative Bohemian Paris, and I can imagine the energy and tension that brought the city to life during this time period. I have to say, however, that I really didn’t care for Hemingway (obviously a main character in the book), and I found Hadley to be grating and insufferable late in the novel as well.

Girl at War by Sara Nović (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: Told from the perspective of a Croat named Ana, this book jumps between her experiences as a 10-year-old child growing up during the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991 and as a 20-year-old woman coming to terms about her life and losses during that tumultuous time. I most enjoyed the fact this book focused on a conflict that doesn’t get much attention, so I actually learned something meaningful reading it. However, though it was written well enough, it didn’t captivate my attention as much as I thought it would.

Looking Around: A Journey Through Architecture by Witold Rybczynski (1/5 stars)

Three-line review: When I picked this up at a used bookstore last year, I thought it would be some sort of commentary about how society interacts with, reflects, and relates to the buildings in their everyday lives. Unfortunately, it’s a series of articles about various architectural aspects — suburban design, choosing an architect, the design of malls and shrines, etc. — and it was ridiculously boring. Without an architectural background, this book was just a collection of names, terminology, and analysis that didn’t mean anything to me.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: This jarring, violent, and tragic story is told from the author’s perspective as a child growing up during the regime of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Ung’s attention to detail made me feel the hunger, sorrow, confusion, and rage she experienced as many of her family members were murdered over the course of Pol Pot’s hold over the country. The only reason I give this one four stars is because I didn’t know much about this bloody conflict before reading this book, and while it did provide some context for what was going on, I still don’t have a good grasp on what happened and why because it was told from a child’s point of view.

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