Books Read in October and November

Since I last posted I have started making notes on the books I read in an old-fashioned paper-and-pen notebook, which is part of the reason I haven't posted about books; I feel like I've thought about the books quite enough between reading them and then making notes, I don't really want to face them again in the blog. So I am trying to decide if I should give up blogging about books at all. On the one hand I feel as if books are the only thing of substance I write about, and I sort of like putting my reading list out there and sharing the finds and the books to avoid; I know there is at least one person who gets ideas about books to read from my list. On the other hand I don't know if anyone else particularly cares what I read and what I think about it, so maybe it's not worth blogging about and I should stick to the paper book log.

Anyway, all that aside I would like to write about what I read in the rest of 2006, for completeness.

The Baby Project by Sarah Ellis is a young adult novel about a teenage girl who gets an unexpected baby sister, and how the new addition pulls the family apart and together.

SPOILER: Of course there is the obligatory tragedy which forces everyone to confront their demons and become better people. Tragedies in young adult fiction often seem to heavy-handed and morose and obvious. "We must have something terrible happen to these people to move the character development forward." As opposed to the tragedy happening because tragedies happen, which I suppose happens in life, but I feel like fiction should be a little more sensible. I don't know how an author finesses that fine line of having things happen to move the novel forward without it being obvious that this thing is happening to move the novel forward, but it's nice when they manage it. Which Ellis didn't here, but otherwise it's a good story with well-drawn characters.

Reading Series Fiction by Victor Watson seemed like a nice complement to the book about reading like a professor. It's about series fiction for children, which apparently is an under-studied genre in the world of children's literature. Watson gives a nice overview, with lots of analysis of various series, as well as effectively skewering Enid Blyton. This is a must-read for anyone who is interested in children's literature.

Confessions of an Organized Homemaker by Deniece Schofield is a book about how to get organized. I can't remember the layout or concept of this book, but I wrote down a bunch of good ideas from it, like keeping jigsaw puzzle pieces in big Ziploc baggies and getting rid of the boxes (which always fall apart, don't stack nicely and generally make life hard); keeping all dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, rice, etc) in Tupperware containers which stack neatly, rather than in the original packaging (of course I use cheap and cheerful Gladware instead). This was a useful book with lots of similar good ideas.

Johnny Kellock Died Today by Hadley Dyer is a young adult novel set in Halifax in the fifties. I don't remember much about this apart from a favourable impression and appealing characters, and another tragedy but a much more finely drawn and subtle one.

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert is a book about what makes people happy. This is very nicely written; I enjoyed reading it not just for the content but for the author's voice. It's an interesting book about where happiness comes from, what makes us happy, how we deal with tragedy, and how to make decisions that will make us happy in the future. It's probably a good idea for everyone to read this book. Everyone who wants to be happy, anyway.

The Car and the City by Alan Thein Durning is an overview of how cars and cities work together, or rather how they don't work together, and how we can create cities which improve our lives and lessen our dependence on cars (which are pretty much synonymous in my mind). Useful book, easy to read.

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston and Autumn Term by Antonia Foster are both discussed in the aforementioned Reading Series Fiction book. Green Knowe is about a little boy who is sent to live with an ancient relative in a spooky old house, and the friends he makes there; Autumn Term is an excellent representative of the English Boarding School genre. Both are very good and I will suggest the girls read them when they are older.

I did not finish Allergy: History of a Modern Malady by Mark Jackson. I thought it would be more chatty, more lighthearted, but it turned out to be a dense discussion of the history of allergies in medicine, and I gave up after a couple of chapters.

Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith and Cold Moon by Jeffrey Deaver were good easy reading.

The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy and the New Fundamentalism by Dick Taverne is a really nice comparison of anti-scientific doctrines and beliefs with the old religious fundamentalism. Taverne discusses the role of the media and post-modernist thought in the mongering of fear of such diverse bugaboos as multinational companies, pesticide, genetic modification, and modern medicine. His arguments are sound and this book is very thought-provoking. It's also nice to think that one doesn't have to go around being scared and cynical all the time.

Kindred by Octavia Butler is an awesome book. It's about a modern (well, seventies) black woman who is sent back in time to the slavery-era South to save a white man who will become her ancestor. Imagine the best possible book with that scenario, and that's what Butler has written. I am glad to have found this author because she wrote a lot, and you know I am always running out of things to read.

I didn't read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell because I wanted to, but because every else in the world has read it and I felt left out. I'm glad I did, though, because it's interesting and Gladwell is always a pleasure to read. It's more of that same brain stuff like in Stumbling on Happiness and The Paradox of Choice, and the more I know about how the brain works the more in control I feel, and the more I understand about the world.

The Fourth Horseman by Andrew Nikiforuk was really disappointing. It's a book about plagues and pandemics, and I love a good plague. One of my favourite units in History was on the Black Death. But in my notebook I wrote "A discussion of various plagues and pandemics through the ages, fatally marred by the author's disdain for doctors, technology, and facts." It's a weird book; at one point Nikiforuk talks with disgust about how underwear was originally worn to protect more valuable outer garments from body soil. Isn't that why we wear underwear now? I mean, except Paris Hilton, for whom outerwear is underwear. He also goes into a wistful reverie about the good old days when half of children born didn't make it to age five, and old people were really respected because there weren't so many of them. He speaks with disdain about the "germ theory" of disease, the radical theory that microorganisms are the cause of many diseases. And a cornerstone of modern medicine. I think Nikiforuk is a kook in journalist's clothing; this book was a jarring contrast the The March of Unreason.

Little People: Learning to See The World Through My Daughter's Eyes by Dan Kennedy is a book by the father of a little girl born with achondroplagic dwarfism, about his journey to understand why she was born different and what that means for her future and for the world she will live in. It was an interesting book and a good read. It was also fun to read the bits about the Roloffs, because I know you watch Little People, Big World every week like I do. Or at least you should.

Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs is better than the last one — she's back to her usual formula and it's working. Although I hope she resolves this husband/boyfriend love triangle thing, it's starting to drag on.

So that was a lot of books and it took me a really long time to write about them; was it worth it? I don't know; I'm just really tired.


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