An Open Book: What I Read in January

Exhaustion and fatigue sat on my shoulders as I brushed my teeth. Pulling on my flannel pajamas felt like sinking into a down-filled cloud.

Some days take more of a mental and physical toll than others, and this one was particularly tough. I finally crawled into bed, totally beat after a day of writing, meetings, and juggling various projects.

And yet, I couldn’t turn off the lights and drift off to sleep until I’d spent at least a few minutes reading.

Regardless of what the waking hours have brought into my life, every single day ends like this. There’s something about the physical act of reading — regardless of what I read or for how long — that helps put my mind at ease and my day to rest.

book reviews january

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: The book follows an old man who is disturbingly obsessed with a young boy as an epidemic overtakes Venice and, ultimately, the book’s protagonist. Though beautifully written with lovely descriptions of the Italian city, this book’s plot was so thin it was hardly a story. Mann’s words would have been better used elsewhere because Death in Venice doesn’t have much to offer except to make readers feel uncomfortable about an aging man’s probing gaze.

Becoming by Michelle Obama (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: Michelle Obama’s book is the embodiment of her famous statement, “When they go low, we go high.” Tracking her life from her childhood years growing up on the south side of Chicago to her current life post-FLOTUS, Obama is honest and authentic about everything from infertility and marriage struggles to the growth of her White House initiatives focused on education and healthy eating. Despite a myriad of trials and tribulations, and even into the present day, she maintains a sense of hope and opportunity that we as people with a shared sense of humanity can do good and be enough in the world.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: This detailed account of what happened at New Orleans’ Memorial Hospital during Hurricane Katrina illustrates how unprepared organizations and cities are for natural disasters. Fink clearly did her research to present a complete picture of the situation, which is appreciated when there are so many people, emotions, and perspectives involved in such a situation. I particularly enjoyed the detailed account of the five days in Memorial and her analysis of disaster preparedness and ethical debates about euthanasia in the book’s epilogue, but the section detailing the aftermath and litigation was far too long and boring.

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Connor Grennan (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: I’m so over books from hipster 20-something guys who travel around the world and think their stories have mass appeal. Though Grennan’s story starts that way, I was happy to see it go in a direction that was more than just self-serving and has actually made a positive difference in this world. That said, I would have liked a little more background information about Nepal’s child trafficking situation and less about the author’s budding romance.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: This book somehow manages to be simple but complex and authentic but magical. Even though it’s a fairly quick read, the interwoven timelines and jumps in time combined with numerous points of view made me question whether I really understood what was going on at times. An interview with the author indicates she wanted people to have their own interpretation of the ending, and, like life itself, it certainly isn’t straightforward.

2 Responses to “An Open Book: What I Read in January”

  1. Jill

    Our book group read Etta and Otto, etc… a few years ago when it first came out. We are all older…60+……and had quite the discussion about the characters motivations, and exactly what “actual reality” was contrasted to a character’s perception. I’m sure a discussion of this book would be radically different depending on the age of the reader. We had a number of comments that were…”I know someone like….”; “I’ve seen someone who believes that …. is real”; “Sometimes you just feel you have to …(do a certain activity)….time is running out”; etc. The book really leaves so much unresolved.

    • JoAnna

      That was the author’s intention. There are no easy answers or resolutions. I’m sure your conversation about this book was an interesting one.


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