“Katie,” I can hear ya sayin’, “- it’s not time for book reviews. It’s time for your Five Things.” But you guys, I don’t think I can handle even five things today. Not with any sort of good cheer or absence of teeth gnashing. Or, even abject horror. So I’ll just plan to stay hidden in my books a little bit longer. Say…four years or so.
With that being said, it’s #NonficNov Week 2! [Look: I summoned an exclamation mark and everything. I’m rallying.] Not only did I join a few of my friends for the challenge, but I seem to have broken my reading slump, too. I slammed my way through six books this week. How you like them apples?!
But before we get to the which, let’s talk about the what and the who, shall we? In November, with more purposeful selection, I balance out my reading for the entire year. And it’s all because of the movement hosted by our wonderful reading community. This year Doing Dewey is hosting, along with Sarah at Sarah’s Bookshelves, Rachel at Hibernator’s Library, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, and Julz at Julz Reads. They have some lovely giveaways and book reviews going on, so go say hello! I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Kim over at Sophisticated Dorkiness. Kim is Non-fic November, for those who don’t know, and she’s still recovering from a huge, no-good, very bad Something right now. If you could all go love on Kim a little and send her the happiest thoughts, it would mean a lot to me. We’ve all been laid flat by grief at one point or another and I wish I didn’t know, but I do. I know I’ll be keeping Kim tucked into the back of my reading brain this month, raining some love down on her.
Now that we know who to thank for these feast, what was I nibbling on this week?
The Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl, by Donald Sturrock (2010, Simon & Schuster, 655 pages, used paperback). I have been working on this book forever! Seriously – months! And that for me is practically years. I found it in great condition at my favorite used bookstore and grabbed it for a dollar or two, not knowing how widely acclaimed it is or how dang readable. It really was a wonderful read. The fact that it took me so long to finish had nothing to do with how compelling Dahl’s life was (I am even more fascinated than when I started, moreso than even when I had just finished Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), or the quality of the writing (Sturrock seemed to get Dahl in a way most biographers wouldn’t have been able to, in my opinion) – it’s just that the book was long and when I read at night, I’ve been falling asleep in approximately two pages, every single time. So it takes a girl awhile to make her way through 655 of them. If you like biographies or you’re looking for a peek into home life of a Royal Air Force pilot or want to chew on how such a gifted children’s author could at times be a world-class jerk, I highly recommend. 4 of 5 stars.
1 Dead in Attic: Post-Katrina Stories, by Chris Rose (2005, Simon & Schuster, 158 pages, ebook). I bought this on a whim – okay, not really. More as a reward, I suppose. I’ve been coveting this collection of essays for awhile, and it didn’t disappoint. Each was just a few pages long, just enough to capture a few thoughts or a the heart of some cultural flashpoint in the days, weeks, and months after Katrina leveled New Orleans. For those who engage in community politics, and are interested in social justice, this is just the ticket. I wish some of the essays had been fleshed out more – ultimately, it’s what kept me from recommending everyone go buy the book outright – but there was enough there to keep me reading. If you see it in a used bookstore, grab it. If you can borrow a copy, do it sooner rather than later. I just wouldn’t spend my finite book dollars on a brand-new copy. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.
Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, by Karen Abbott (2014, Harper, 513 pages, paperback). I got this book for Christmas last year, and have been working my way up to it. At one point, we had talked about doing a read-along, particularly with #NonFicNov in mind. All the awards it won? Were for a dang reason! Liar was one of those rare non-fiction books that read like a spy thriller, bouncing back and forth in omniscient third-person narrator that I love so much, tantalizing the reader with hints and allegations as facts build up to stories of these four amazing women. It made me proud to be a woman, and small in the million things I complain about and take for granted. You have got to read this if you’re at all interested in war stories, espionage, feminism, or being a person. 4 of 5 stars.
Blindsided: Surviving a Grizzly Attack and Still Loving the Great Bear, by Jim Cole (2010, St. Martin’s Press, 304 pages, ebook). I splurged. I needed some escapism this week, and everyone who knows me knows that animal attacks – as silly as it is – are my version of celebrity gossip. You know it shouldn’t entertain you and you shouldn’t rot your brain reading it, but sometimes you can’t help it. This book served just that purpose. It wasn’t greatly written, but the gore levels were sufficient that I was distracted from the real-life circus around me. (I told you I was a terrible person.) If you like reading about animal attacks, it’s good enough to borrow. Most notable is how after two bear attacks Cole can still be as dedicated to preserving the great bear and its habitat as he is. He isn’t just all talk. 2 of 5 stars.
The Elephants in My Backyard, by Rajiv Surendra (2016, Regan Arts, 288 pages, ebook). I can read memoirs centered around just about any adventure or anyone’s life – it’s a supertalent of mine. This story was particularly interesting not because I’ve seen Mean Girls, in which Surendra starred, but because it was about his quest to get in touch with his Indian and Tamil routes in order to better his chances at starring in the film adaptation of Life of Pi. The movie doesn’t quite work out – and neither did the memoir, considering I’d been hoping it would serve as a poor man’s version of Eat, Pray, Love – but the tale itself was interesting. It could have been fleshed out a bit more…or maybe what I wanted was to lose even a little the sense that Surendra was conscious the entire time that he was crafting a tale, writing, writing, scripting, writing… It wore on me after awhile. But at least he had many adventures with which to pull from. 3 of 5 stars.
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, by Elyn Saks (2007, Hachette, 340 pages, ebook). I’d been saving this ebook deal of the day for #NonFicNov and flew through it. Memoirs about mental health struggles are smack dab in the middle of my wheelhouse. I liked that Saks portrayed her constant struggle; it wasn’t just a one-hurdle memoir and now the beast is slain and shall never rise again sort of deal – because that’s not how mental health ever plays out in real life. It’s something you constantly question and face down and battle. I was a little less thrilled with the no-medicine message in the beginning, even if Saks was careful to explain it was foisted upon her and she was glad to have corrected those beliefs since then. That’s dangerous – especially given its responsibility as a mental health memoir. 3 of 5 stars.
There you go. I’m continuing my romp through terrible-for-me-but-terribly-entertaining reads with a book about the Jodi Arias murder, and I’m also slowly making my way through Crash Detectives, about how aviation experts determine how a crash happened based on the data available afterwards. Fun happy reads that have nothing to do with why I’m not sleeping at night. Heh. Next I’ll have to scourge my brain with the illustrated Little House biography and wholesome cookbooks or something. Because good lord, Katie.
Still. There are weeks you get through however you can, and these is one of those if ever there was one.