October 2015


Books 67 to 75: Making a dent in my stack of physical books

After my last report, I made a concerted effort to read the physical books in my unread stack. I managed to read six actual books, four of which were new, one old, and one borrow. I have two other physical books in progress, plus 11 more on the shelf. In that sense, it feels like I really haven’t made much progress, but four off of the new pile is a good thing.

As for my mini-reports, here it goes…

67: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel – I noted that I would read this book last time. This is the graphic/comic novel/memoir by Alison Bechdel that relates her father’s life in the closet, which several incoming freshmen at Duke University declined to read because the graphic presentation of lesbian oral sex would offend them and their god. Now that I’ve read it, the graphic presentation wasn’t graphic in the pornographic sense, it consisted of simple drawings that didn’t reveal much – I’ve read written descriptions of lesbian sex that were more graphic than that presented in the graphic novel. As I think back to what it would have been like to read this as a fresh out of high school 18 year old, I get the ickiness factor: if you’ve never had cause to consider lesbian sex (and you’re a deep in the closet gay guy), then this book is going to throw you a lot of curve balls. But using “god” to hide from reading it is a pretty pathetic excuse. I’m willing to concede that not all people click with all books – certainly I have tried to read John Irving’s In One Person several times, but it just did not work for me. That’s a fine excuse, you tried, but it doesn’t click, but to hide behind your god is a pathetic excuse. This is a fine novel – a quick afternoon read next to the fireplace.

68: The Bookshop that Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw – I picked up this book while in the UK; I must have thought that it was a novel, not actually a memoir of Sarah Henshaw’s efforts to run a floating bookshop up and down the canals of the UK. Ultimately this book was a tremendous disappointment, without a strong story to tell – other than to discourage anybody from entering the business of running a bookshop on a floating barge.

69: The English: A Field Guide by Matt Rudd – this is a faux (yet serious) anthropological study of what it means to be English. It’s entirely forgettable (and best forgotten). The best book I’ve ever read in this genre is Kate Fox’s Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behavior – that was a fun book. I loaned it to somebody and never got it back. Grrrrr.

70: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Beck Albertalli – this is a lovely coming of age and coming out novel aimed squarely at the youth of today, incorporating a conversation between Simon and one of his classmates at his school – a conversation via email, using fake names, but one that touches on everything challenging about being young and gay. It’s a very nice YA novel.

71: Economical Writing by Deirdre N. McCloskey – I borrowed this book from a colleague – this is, for budding economists, a nice essay about the best way to write a serious economics paper, all while imbibed with a sense of humor. Deirdre N. McCloskey is one of the most important economists out there, and her advice is mostly spot on. (Although she has lost the battle for two spaces after the period. That’s way passé, even if I do it myself.)

72: Nothing Pink by Mark Hardy – This was a reread, taken from my shelf – I needed something short to read and I couldn’t remember the book. It’s a nice coming of age, coming to terms with being gay story, centered on a guy who is the son of a preacher. Stories like this make me grateful that I grew up with was essentially atheist parenting.

73: Into the River by Tad Dawe – I read this book because it was in the news for a reason that ought to embarrass New Zealand: the book was banned after complaints by Christians. The Kiwi Christian group, “Family First” complained about sexually explicit content, drugs and ladies body parts being called by a dirty word. Such a review (and banning) brought me right to the book – and here’s the thing – it’s probably a fantastic book for New Zealand’s youth, but it didn’t speak to me. Sure there was sex. Yes drugs were abused. And yes, dirty words were used – but if the book was going to be read by the youth of New Zealand in an impactful way, it must use real words and realize the truth of daily life for teens. Would I read it again? Probably not. But I’m glad I read it – and if the ban holds, this is a huge stain on the reputation of New Zealand. Actually, the stain already exists – the question will become how permanent is the stain. Right now I wouldn’t want to move to New Zealand. Or spend money there.

74: The Pearl that Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashimi – I read this book for book club – what a fantastic book about what it is like to be a girl who is allowed to live as a boy so that, in rural Afghanistan, you can do things for your mom and sisters – women who cannot leave the home because they are women. It’s a fantastic novel.

75: Passing by Nellat Larsen – I saw this book mentioned in an article in Bitch and thought to myself, I should check it out – in a strange way, as I write this, it occurs to me that this is a lot like The Peark That Broke Its Shell, except that instead of dealing with an oppressive Muslim, misogynistic society, it deals with an oppressive racist society in the form of the United States. As a short novel it addresses what it is like to be a very light skinned black person, so light skinned that you are able to get into white only venues without being noticed. It’s a powerful novel that dates back to 1929. Highly recommended.

Currently being read: The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander (Preview Summary: disappointing and not well written), Defining Marriage: Voices from a Forty-Year Labor of Love by Matthew Baume (Preview Summary: disappointing and not very well written). We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas is also in progress (Preview Summary: Holy Cow This Book Is Long And Incredibly Boring So It Will Take A Long Time.)

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