I read fewer books this month due to my unplanned hospital stay when I was too sick to want to read (and if you know me, you know that is seriously unusual!), but I still managed to read my usual hodge-podge of genres, which I’m linking up to QuickLit. Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you thought, and if you have any particularly excellent recommendations for us this month! And without further ado, this month’s roundup:
A memoir that’s kind of like a book review
I was intrigued by Rebecca Mead’s unusually structured memoir, My Life in Middlemarch, because George Eliot’s Middlemarch is also one of my favorites (if you’re an Austen fan, you really should read it. It’s similar, but far, far more satisfying).
As it turned out though, Mead’s premise–that a particular book can weave into your life experience–yielded lots of interesting information about the book, the setting, and the author, but bogged down in Mead’s own memoir sections. I think overall I’d just recommend that you read Middlemarch itself and skip this memoir unless you absolutely want to know more about the book and have time to wade through the memoir bits.
I did love the reminder of the very end of Middlemarch:
“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Don’t you love that?
World War II history well suited to audio
We began studying World War II just before our impromptu launch into holiday term (I planned ahead to take time off for maternity leave so we are on partial/half schedule through December) and as I’ve always been fascinated by that era, I was eager to read A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France. I listened to the book on audio, and at first was allowing Hannah (age 9) to listen with me, especially due to the reader’s incredibly mellifluous voice. She has the most elegant British accent and PERFECT French–as Hannah said, “I love to hear this lady speak!” The gripping story begins with a very interesting history of the resistance movement in occupied France, and the various roles women played as the resistance became established.
However, once the book turned to descriptions of the convoy of women taken to the concentration camps, the unspeakable horrors they endured and how their commitment to each other allowed some to survive quickly became more detail than I wanted to expose the kids to for now. The detail was entirely appropriate and important knowledge for adults, but take care if you have sensitive kids. Even after decades of reading World War II history, I still learned a lot from this book and would recommend it.
A parallel story of cultural change
The Boston Girl reminds me a lot of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in that both books are told in retrospective style and feature heroines who come of age in tenements in a time of great change in America. I enjoyed the changing perspectives and the way that attitudes and even the city of Boston changed as the main character grew up and made life choices.
If you enjoy books that combine a story with insight into cultural change and historical events, I think this is a pretty good one.
Part 2 of a funny memoir about growing up in small town America
She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana follows Kimmel’s first memoir of growing up in small town America, A Girl Named Zippy. In the second volume, which is also excellently and hilariously narrated by the author in the audio version, Zippy is a little older–10-13–and there are undercurrents in her growing understanding that all is not right in her world. The main theme of the book, which begins with Zippy’s mom taking control of her life and going back to college, is her parents’ courage in finding happiness even though they seem locked in to dead-end situations. The second book is not as funny as the first–although it’s still pretty funny–but Kimmel still nails the particular qualities of being a pre-teen in the 70s and somehow makes a very specific childhood seem universal.
An awesome fiction pick you will want to add to Christmas lists
If you need a Christmas present for a husband/brother/whoever guy who was a kid or teen in the 1980s, give him Ready Player One. It’s the sort of novel that even guys who claim not to read novels will really, really enjoy.
And if you already like reading novels, whether or not you are a guy from the 80s, you’ll also like this book because it’s a crazy amazing quest-pop-culture-throwback-mystery-coming-of-age story that you will want to read from cover to cover in one sitting.
The book takes place in a close dystopian future. In the midst of an extremely well-pitched story, it also examines questions like how we see other people and get to know their true selves, the interplay of virtual lives versus real lives, and the meaning of self in an increasingly technological world.
Most of all it’s a fantastic story. I thought it was so fun even though my husband thinks I’m kind of culturally illiterate when it comes to the 80s. Highly recommended.
A widely applicable leadership/business/life book
If you’re saying, “well, I’m not a CEO so I will skip this book,” stop right there. The messages in H3 Leadership: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle. are almost universally applicable, because we are all leaders in one way or another in our lives. The book takes the approach that no matter what your leadership role, there are habits that can serve you well in your walk of life. From exhortations to build deep connections and stick to your principles, to thinking rightly about ambition and innovation, the habits described in H3 would make a strong foundation for just about any calling. I appreciated the author’s readable style and thought-provoking way of examining common concepts in new lights.
My main takeaways from the book were:
- To think differently about ambition so that I can foster the positive sides of that trait without succumbing to the downfalls (I had let myself off the hook for ambition since I gave up the whole “Big Career” thing, but really I’m a very ambitious person, and Lomenick’s section on the topic gave me a lot to think about)
- To make a point of scheduling a weekly coffee with another writer, artist, colleague, or friend to get inspiration
- To find a way to answer “How are you?” with “I’m rested and rejuvenated” rather than “I’m really busy”
- Whenever someone asks me how they can pray for me, to ask for wisdom.
I think the majority of people would benefit from at least a cursory read of H3 Leadership and its description of helpful habits, and I’d recommend it.
A decent history of the Romanov sisters
I can’t put my finger on why The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandrawas a long-term bestseller. I enjoy Russian history, and thought the book was fine, but not terribly ground-breaking or fundamentally different from other, similar narratives. That said, my perspective could be flawed since I listened to the book in audio form and was mildly annoyed that the reader mispronounced words including Russian names, and also I listened to it primarily in the middle of the night while up feeding the baby in the dark. Listening while sleep-deprived, in pain, and disoriented as I tried to nurse, pumped, and gave bottles may not have been the ideal circumstances for consuming a book of history. However, I don’t regret the time and did enjoy the book enough to recommend it if you’re looking for something about the last Romanov tsar and his family.
Another SUPER helpful book for parenting spirited kids
I’ve written at length before about the challenges of parenting intense kids (and books to help with that), after which a friend recommended Raising Your Spirited Child. I love that the book focuses on the power of the labels we use to describe our kids, and also on the fact that as parents our responsibility is to help our kids learn to navigate life, whether they come into it calm and compliant or literally having stronger physical reactions to frustrations, emotions, and stimuli. Since parents are often like their children (shocker!) I found personal insight into things like why I can’t sleep in hotels and want to DIE when I hear other people chewing and why I’m always throwing away socks with the wrong type of seams, and I realized once again that I have a lot of sanitized, adult versions of the strong reactions my intense kids have to their environments. I feel like so often the answer to my parenting struggles is GRACE–for all of us.
The book has a lot of helpful concrete suggestions for living with your intense child in understanding, avoiding power struggles, really commiserating with your child, and helping the child learn to control his or her own intensity. I highly recommend it.
You made it! Let me know your thoughts on these books, or give us a tip for great books you read this month! Finally, be sure to check QuickLit for more book roundup posts.
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