An Open Book: What I Read in July and August

To say that this summer was filled with copious amounts of book reading is an understatement.

I dove into a pile of picture books and graphic novels when I had the chance. I got myself all riled up about race and anger and injustice in America’s prisons. I found myself absorbed by light storytelling.

It’s been nothing short of spectacular.

And, the craziest thing happened as we neared the end of August: I finished reading my 52nd book of the year!

My goal this year was to read 40 books. Never in a million years did I think I’d be able to read, on average, one book a week over the course of a year. And yet, I’ve done just that — with four months to go in 2019!

Normally I drop my books into my monthly reading posts without a particular order. This month, they’re noted from five fabulous stars down to the bottom of the barrel.

Have you read any of these? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: This book is brutally honest, deeply personal, and hard to read … and those are exactly the reasons why this should be required reading for every single white person. DiAngelo, a white diversity trainer, does not excuse herself from the wrath of racism, and the examples she sprinkles throughout this book illustrate how pervasive the problem is in society. If you’re a white person, do the world a favor an put this book on your to-read list.

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: Fuck YES. Traister’s book is a sweeping overture of women’s anger throughout modern American history culminating in the reverberating effects of the 2018 U.S. presidential election. This is an anthem for people who, like me, have stifled anger amid a culture of sexism, gendered commentary, and ongoing suppression simply because we’re women. There’s an undercurrent of simmering anger among women, and this book validates it and encourages women to use that anger to make real and lasting changes.

Big Wolf & Little Wolf by Nadine Brun-Cosme (5/5)

Three-line review: An adorable picture book with bold imagery about an unexpected friendship. When the little wolf falls into the big wolf’s shadow, the big wolf is hesitant to let him be as “big” as he is, but when the little wolf isn’t around one day, the big wolf realizes how important the little wolf is to him. This one handles real feelings in a very diplomatic way, and I loved both wolves when I finally closed the book.

Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: A wonderful graphic novel memoir that tastefully and touchingly recounts Chast’s experiences with her aging parents. The tumultuous emotions she experiences while going through this difficult time of her life is something I imagine nearly everyone experiences at some point, and her honesty is greatly appreciated. My husband found the illustrations to be a bit messy, but I felt it matched the frenzy of the situation very well.

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American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: A powerful first-person memoir about working as a security guard at a privately run American prison written by a man who spent time as a prisoner in Iran. I remember reading Bauer’s exposé in Mother Jones, and his compelling story and perspective is worthy of a book-length manuscript. American Prison is really two books in one: It not only expands upon his personal experience but also weaves in the history and backstory of prison labor and privatization.

Just One Year by Gayle Forman (4/5 stars) 

Three-line review: It’s been a hot minute since I read the first book in this series, Just One Day, but I enjoyed the first book so much I was eager to finally get around to reading this one. While reading, I thought a lot about fate and how seemingly unimportant events often tumble into each other to reveal pivotal moments in our lives, which is a twisted wormhole that can be daunting to explore. Once again, I loved Forman’s writing — her style, flow, pacing, character development — but the only drawback is that, to be fully satisfied, it will be necessary to read the final book in this series.

Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores by Bob Eckstein (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: I thoroughly enjoyed paging through this book, reading the esoteric tales told by booksellers and employees, and admiring the watercolor paintings of 75 different bookstores. It was particularly fun to happen across bookstores I’ve visited. Four stars versus five only because I thought the selection was particularly U.S.-centric.

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: Hosseini’s magical way with words carries through in this lovely series of tangentially related stories. Every sentence is fresh and free of tired cliches, which I thoroughly appreciate. I prefer Hosseini’s books that have a more solid story arc better, which is why this one gets four stars from me, but it is still very much a worthy read.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: Entertaining, light, and straightforward, Crazy Rich Asians was a perfect summer read. With (often severely) flawed characters and misunderstandings set against an outrageous backdrop, this book isn’t deep or thought-provoking, but I didn’t expect it to be. Be forewarned the book invokes cultural and racial stereotypes at times but everything about this book is extreme.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: Part memoir, part historical record, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of one of the most important women in the history of medicine. This story, which follows the history of Lacks’ immortal cells, is about far more than just the unknowing cell donor or what her cells have added to medical knowledge over the years. It’s also an important account of race-related discrimination, medical ethics, and Lacks’ descendants, who have been haunted by the cells since the day they were collected.

Run Wild by David Covell (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: This children’s picture book follows two children as they experience the world through their bare feet for a full day. The imagery is lovely, but the rhyming is a bit forced and awkward at times. I wanted to like this one more than I did, but it gets a shrug and halfhearted “meh.”

Return of the Dapper Men by Jim McCann (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: I like the concept of this graphic novel — an inquisitive boy and a mute, robot girl live in a town where time has stopped — and the art is interesting and engaging. However, clearly I didn’t understand the story as it unfolded. I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the writing, the art, or me, but this one left me scratching my head.

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Your Story Is Your Power: Free Your Feminine Voice by Elle Luna and Susie Herrick (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: This book is beautifully illustrated and lovely to flip through but the substance was lacking. It attempts to lead women through a journey to find their feminine voice yet spends a lot of time regurgitating historical and topical information about feminism and misogyny. It would have been nice to work through some personal self-discovery exercises, but this wasn’t engaging or interesting enough for me to remain invested.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: I honestly don’t understand how this was a New York Times bestseller and such a popular read for book clubs. Edwards’ writing is lovely (the only thing worthy of more than a single star, in my opinion), but this book is so incredibly slow and repetitive. It should have been edited down significantly, and even then there isn’t really a compelling plot to hold it together.

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna (1/5 stars)

Three-line review: How disappointing that there’s a picture book about what it’s like to for a child to set down an electronic device for the day and actually play outside. I’m thrilled the little girl in this book gets to experience what it’s like to actually enjoy her imagination, but it’s also absolutely disheartening that this is the plot of a book. Even the illustrations didn’t redeem this one for me.

The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch (1/5 stars)

Three-line review: What drew me to this e-book were its interesting illustrations, some of which were animated; it turns out that was the only good thing about it. This poorly translated piece of historical fiction was far too long with way too many characters and lots of plodding action. Thirty percent in I started skimming; even reading a few sentences was enough to get the gist of the story.

2 Responses to “An Open Book: What I Read in July and August”

  1. Jill

    Loved your comments, as always! My personal opinion, Memory Keeper’s Daughter became a bestseller because it was “hyped” by the publisher even before it was published. This leads to big purchases of the book by bookstores. You always have to keep in mind that NYT bestsellers are NOT about the number of books sold to individual readers, but about the number sold to bookstores, Amazon, big big retailers (Wal-Mart, Target, etc) that carry books. Then, the book turns out “to be everywhere”, the author is making appearances, and book clubs see it as an easy option. Depending on how diligent a club is on making sure the books chosen are good “discussion” books, these sort of things become a common choice. Not all book clubs do “deep dives” on plotting and writing style, etc….some are really only about the “get together and drink wine” thing 😉

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      I’m just not really sure what there is to discuss about The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. To me, it’s definitely a drink-wine-and-don’t-talk-about-the-book kind of book.

      Reply

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