Saturday, March 3, 2018

Books I Read in February

Hey guys! I'm still here and still kicking! February just sort of hit pretty hard. The kids got sick so there was a week of no sleep, and then my students handed in their first round of papers and I got lost in a grading vortex for two weeks (for those of you who have never taught, grading is the worst thing ever, ever, ever), and just when I thought I was coming up for some air, the homework level in my classes picked up (ten page paper due today, haven't finished it yet...). And the Olympics did nothing to help my productivity levels, but I'm not complaining about that one.

So I'm just sort of limping along until Spring Break later this month. But, thanks to those blessed audio books, the pleasure reading continues! I didn't have quite the standout month that January was, but six books in four weeks is still quite a good rate, all things considered. And most of them were just excellent, so let's dive in!

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

You guys! I don't think I'd ever heard of this book before, but I saw it recommended very highly in two places in the last few months, so when I saw my library had the audio book available, I put in on hold, and... wow. This is my new favorite autobiography/memoir ever. Not only is Beryl's life the most exciting, fascinating story ever (childhood in Africa getting attacked by lions and hunting wild boars with warriors, then growing up to be the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic... I mean!), but the woman can write! Her phrases were just completely breathtaking! It was kind of hard to believe this is the only book she's ever written (I think), because not only am I positive she has the life experience to fill five more volumes at least, she's just so good! If you enjoy interesting biographies and beautiful writing, this one is definitely for you. Highly recommend!

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but it was definitely still worth the read. This story, and this young woman, are both incredible. I knew she was the girl who got shot for going to school, and I knew she'd given a speech at the UN, but I didn't really know much else about her before reading this, and what an enlightening read! It was heartbreaking to think that all of this story, a story where people in general but women in particular live with so much oppression and violence, is happening today! In our modern world! A world where I live happily and comfortably in my lovely suburban home, working my way to earn a PhD, but where Malala gets shot just for trying to go to high school. Insanity. It's happy to know that Malala is currently attending Oxford and getting the education she so rightly deserves, but also sad to know that that very education may make it difficult for her to ever return, let alone be welcome, to her native Pakistan. And the role America plays in this whole mess! Malala is an inspiration, she is strong and funny and a complete joy to get to know. And this book taught me so much about Pakistan and the political and social situation over there, things I feel like I should have been aware of because of how much attention we've had on the Middle East for the past two decades, but ignorance is boundless. Anyway, this one is a high recommend.

Rising Strong by Brene Brown

I read Daring Greatly a few years ago and loved it. I'm not sure why it's taken me this long to read any of Brown's other books, but I am glad I got around to it. I guess I was afraid that there would be a lot of repetition of the ideas and research she already wrote about, and maybe there was some of that, because all of the ideas in this book are very connected to the ideas of vulnerability she talks about in Daring Greatly, but she also definitely had new insights to offer in this one. I really, really enjoyed the way she talked about the role of "story" in wrestling with emotions and conflict. I've been thinking a lot about that idea ever since reading this book, and I may need to write a post that dives more deeply into my thoughts, because she had some profound stuff here. But, ironically, this book almost made me like Brown less. Well, not less, but she shares some very personal stories about her own weakest moments (a very vulnerable thing to do), and her weaknesses are very different than mine. So I found myself a little shocked at some of her immature responses to situations, but I guess what's inspiring is that she is actually learning from her research and working hard to change, and that is admirable. This one is also a high recommend.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

Okay, look, I'm super tired of WWII stories, because there are so. many. of. them. But I was intrigued by this one actually being based on a true story, and knowing that the story at least ends happy for some of them (thus the title, so hopefully not too much of a spoiler for you guys), I decided to give it a try. If you like WWII stories, YOU MUST READ THIS ONE! It is so, so good. I loved it so much, and there was so much crying in the end. Not sad crying, necessarily. But it was so much more real to me knowing that these things actually happened (this is a fictionalized account, but based on true events). The evil felt that much more evil, the good that much happier. It was an amazing story, and very well written. I highly recommend.

The Clockwork Muse by Eviatar Zerubavel

Okay, this is not for everyone. This was a homework assignment for my professionalization class, and it's all about how to write long pieces of work, like theses, dissertations, and books. Zerubavel is an academic, so most of his advice applies to academic type writing. However, it is a very readable book, very short, and packed with good and insightful advice about how to break long projects down into manageable chunks, how to think about scheduling time, and how to revise. If you've been thinking about writing a book or working on some kind of big project, but don't know how to get started, this might give some useful advice, even if you're not an academic.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Phil Knight knows how to tell a good story. If there's no ghost writer on this thing, he's really quite a fantastic writer. I was on the edge of my seat with suspense the whole time about whether or not this company was ever going to get off the ground! (Spoiler, yes, Nike gets off the ground and becomes one of the most successful sporting goods companies of all time). It was a thrilling story. However, I also came away from it not really liking Knight all that much. He's pretty honest about his flaws, which is nice, but I didn't necessarily care for the crass/alcoholic/border-line fraudulent business culture they created in the early days. Sure, all these people were geniuses, and there are lots of inspirational take-aways, but especially when reading about his relationship with his son, I just kept thinking "No success can compensate for failure in the home..." So yeah, still a recommend. It's a very good read, and maybe you'll feel entirely different about Knight and Nike than I did. It's just clearly not the kind of life I'm interested in leading.

Anyway, there you go. A pretty stellar reading month, in my opinion. Let me know if you've read any of these and what you think about them, I'd love to hear!