Recent Reading: Who’s Counting?

Light blue notebook with elastic strap closure, pink fountain pen

Pen: Sailor Clear Candy

I am, kind of. When I ditched Goodreads, I still wanted to keep track of my reading. I tried using Evernote, but found it too cumbersome for making a note if I’m reading a paper book. So I got a notebook (this one in periwinkle, for my stationery fetishizing friends). I love notebooks, I love a chance to use my fountain pens, it’s a good system for me. It’s not social like Goodreads, but that’s what the blog is for, right?

So I know that I read 4 1/2 books in January, and listened to 6. Normally, I would hope to read more, but I read some longer books this month. Also, I really loved some of my recent audio choices, and sometimes chose to listen when I might have been reading. Here are the January/early February books I haven’t already written about:

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Friday Night Reading: Damsel in Green, by Betty Neels

On Fridays I teach two three-hour classes. They’re team-taught, with a fair bit of discussion and group work, so I’m not “on” the whole time, but I do try not to zone out while my teaching partner or students are doing the talking. Fridays 3:30-5:30 is one of our meeting times, so sometimes I go straight from my second class to a meeting. As you can imagine, I arrive home tired, talked out, and not good for much–and usually with a headache.

Often whatever book(s) I have on the go seems too daunting for Friday night reading. Sometimes I’m just too tired for print and choose an old favorite on audio. Other times, I look for a short, undemanding book. Last Friday, not feeling up to the ordinary lives of North Koreans, and thanks to a Twitter recommendation from Sunita, I downloaded Betty Neels’ Damsel in Green, which she said was one of her favorite Neels books. I was totally engrossed, zipping through the first half on Friday night and lingering in bed Saturday morning to finish it. Perfect Friday Night Reading.

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The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe

I’ve been interested in The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe’s memoir of his mother Mary Anne’s dying of pancreatic cancer and the books they read and discussed during that time, since I first heard about it. And since non-fiction has been some of my most successful audio “reading” lately, I downloaded it as soon as I spotted it in my library’s Overdrive catalogue.

But I was wary. The book blurb and rather unctuous quotes from reviews/other authors had some red flag words: lyrical, astonishing, inspiring. I’m especially wary of that last one, thanks in large part to Ridley’s discussions of why treating the disabled, ill or dying as “inspiration” for the able is problematic. Still, a book about the importance of books and reading appealed to me, so I decided to give it a try. It wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t find it lyrical, astonishing, or inspiring–at least not in the way I expected. And it was more enjoyable to me because of that.

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Recent Reading: Speed Dating Edition

I haven’t have much time or energy for reading lately, let alone blogging. And I’m in one of those moods/emotional states where romance isn’t working for me. So here is a list, with minimal commentary (ETA: as usual, I’m not as minimal as I meant to be), of what I have been, am, and might soon be reading; I’d love to discuss in the comments. Links go various places, like author websites and newspaper reviews, because why am I linking to Goodreads when I quit them?


Suleikha SnyderSpice and Smoke. I enjoyed this pair of linked novellas more than I expected–gorgeous movie stars and rather angsty, soapy-sounding plots aren’t really my thing. But I didn’t find the angst over the top, and the Bollywood setting, rather than being super glamorous, reminded me of things I enjoy in historicals: these are people who have to behave a certain way in public, a way that often conflicts with their private desires. And I liked the theme-and-variations of the three relationships, which made me think as well as feel. Will read more. Sunita and Janine did an interesting joint review. My grade would be on the high end of their range (a B-).

Ben Aaronovitch, Broken Homes (Peter Grant #4). I think this is out next month in the US; my library ordered the UK edition and it finally came in. I need more friends to read it because I don’t know what I think! I was as always fascinated by the urban parts of Aaronovitch’s urban fantasy, which this time revolves around a post-war council tower-block, built with utopian ideals but disastrous to live in (I’m from Chicago originally, and we had our own examples). It seemed the characters were frustratingly stalled, though–but then there was a big twist at the end that I felt was pretty conventional, think I disliked, but that might push the characters in interesting directions. I can’t say more. Want to be spoiled or read it already? Check out this review from Liz Bourke. She pretty much captures my feelings about the twist.

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Dirty Wars, by Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield is on Publisher’s Weekly‘s Best Non-Fiction of 2013 list, which is how I heard about it (I also heard it; I listened to the audiobook read by Tom Weiner). Dirty Wars reports on the covert military actions against terrorism begun under the Bush administration and continued and expanded under Obama’s. Scahill’s reporting draws on a wide range of sources: (mostly) former CIA and military special operations personnel; members of both US administrations; politicians, military leaders, warlords and ordinary people from Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan. He looks at the big picture of drone strikes and covert operations as well as particular examples, including the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. Woven throughout the book is the story of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born US citizen of Yemeni descent, who became an increasingly radical Muslim cleric (Scahill is not convinced that he was an active member of Al Qaeda, as the US government claims) and was eventually targeted and killed by a US drone strike.

The New York Times and Washington Post both have brief reviews of the accompanying documentary, and The Guardian‘s includes an interview with Scahill. But I couldn’t find any major (in my mind) news outlet that reviewed the book. Why did I go looking? Well, I’m capable of forming my own opinions about this book, but I wanted to know what people with more expertise and knowledge of the subject–journalists, scholars, etc.–might think about it, in part because I think this is the kind of book where your response to it is likely to depend a lot on your politics.

The reviews on Goodreads are mostly very positive, for instance; the low-star ones tend to talk about Scahill’s bias. I think he’s mostly being read by people who agree with him.  This was the most thoughtful critical review I found, but I hope it’s not insulting to say that a recent university graduate interning for a think tank isn’t the kind of expert I was looking for. (Like Scahill, reviewers have a bias; the Brookings Institution is generally described as “centrist.”)

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Posted in non-fiction, personal, review | Tagged , | 9 Comments