What I’ve been reading, part 1

I know I’m seriously behind on my book reviews, but I’ve been reading tons. So I thought I’d post a bunch of mini-reviews because I want to share these books with you, I just haven’t the time to write out full reviews. I’ll start with the nonfiction books that have been spending time on my night stand.

  • Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by AtulGawande –
    Being Mortal by Atul Gawande is a sobering yet hopeful book about end-of-life care.

    Being Mortal by Atul Gawande is a sobering yet hopeful book about end-of-life care.

    Atul Gawande, a prominent surgeon, argues against modern medical practices that extend life at the expense of quality of life in this quick yet important read. As someone who hasn’t yet had to face the realities outlined by Gawande, I still found the book important and fascinating. His thoughts on end-of-life and current medical care are thoughtful and helpful to any person who faces or expects to face an ailing, aging family member. This book is full of boundless wisdom, but I’ll just offer one snippet:

    “At least two kinds of courage are required in aging and sickness. The first is the courage to confront the reality of mortality – the courage to seek out truth of what is to be feared and what is to be hoped. Such courage is difficult enough. … But even more daunting is the second kind of courage – the courage to act on the truth we find. … One has to decide whether one’s fears or one’s hopes are what should matter most.” p. 232

    I know one day these will need to be faced by family, my spouse, or myself. I hope some of the principles of end-of-life care argued for by Gawande become more mainstream by then.

  • Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden by Karen Maezen Miller –
    Despite being a brown thumb myself (I have managed to keep a single succulent plant alive for 4 months, though!), I still love reading about gardening and being surrounded by plants. Many of my nonfiction choices aim for the different perspective on a well-tread topic. I love gardens. I have explored aspects of Buddhism. But I have yet to see them so eloquently joined. Miller, a Zen teacher, relates the tale of how her and her family unexpectedly became the caretakers of a traditional Zen garden hiding in California. Despite having no experience and the horrificly overgrown state of the garden, Miller is instantly in love. What she learns from the process of resurrecting the garden and sharing its wonders is a perfect vehicle for her Zen wisdom.
  • The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney –
    I have an unhealthy obsession with Ancient Egypt that likely goes back to my viewing of The Mummy as a child. From there I absorbed Wilbur Smith (who wrote amazing stories set in Ancient Egypt) and even took a class in Anciet Egypt (despite not being a history major) that was held in England where we focused on the countless Egyptian artifacts that British explorers have brought back over the years. Even more than King Tut, no Egyptian personality is more enigmatic that Queen Hatshepsut, who gained power as a regent for her young son to safeguard the kingdom after her husband’s demise. My entire knowledge of her was based in a computer game I played as child called “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?,” which takes the hit series and turns it into a game that teaches players about world history. Queen Hatshepsut plays a part in the level set in Ancient Egypt. Luckily for me, Kara Cooney is far more knowledgeable and shares this knowledge in a fascinating epic of political intrigue, gender issues and revisionist history. I highly recommend this excellent biography.
  • The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip Zaleski – Having devoured The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings as a child, I couldn’t resist picking up a book that gives readers a deeper look at how those stories were created. The authors take readers on an in-depth trek through the lives of the four most famous members of The Inklings, including J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams. The Inklings were a gathering of some of Oxford’s greatest literary minds, united by their preference for using fantasy to impart their wisdom. The length and depth may be off-putting for many readers, indeed I found myself only skimming some of the passages that I felt weren’t interesting enough. However, some tales were fascinating and it was definitely interesting to see the many challenges the authors had to overcome to bring some of my favorite books to the world.
  • Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial by Kenji Yoshino –
    Following the June 2015 decision by the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage, I decided it was a good time to knock out this book from my to-read list, if only to assess whether it was too out of date to remain a value to the collection. A legal history of marriage equality, “Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial” is actually surprisingly interesting and an easy-to-understand read. Kenji Yoshino obviously knows his legalese, but he attempts to write his book for the layman – that’s me! – to understand. Focusing on Hollingsworth v. Perry, the federal lawsuit brought against California’s Proposition 8, Yoshino offers insight into the steps that led to the pro-same-sex marriage decision. In light of the June 2015 decision by the Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage in all states, the book offers an in-depth view of the biggest stepping-stone to that decision. Readers will learn a lot about how civil rights cases are tried, the path of marriage equality and the personal stories of those affected by the decision. It makes me feel more capable of understanding other news out of the Supreme Court and how complicated the path to equality truly is.
  • Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter by Nina MacLaughlin –
    It’s not every person that can completely break with their life as they know it in pursuit of happiness. Nina MacLaughlin is arguably one of those people that took the leap and successfully found her passion. MacLaughlin’s initial trajectory led her to become a journalist, which turned into a desk job maintaining a newspaper’s web presence. The urge to create something that was real led her to quit her job and apply as a carpenter’s apprentice with no experience whatsoever. Somehow, the woman who took her on saw a spark and hired her. Thus began the journey MacLaughlin relates in “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter”. Packed with poetic language describing the everyday trials and joys of making something out of nothing, “Hammer Head” is a quick and enjoyable memoir. Being a career changer myself – and one that started out as a journalist – made me immediately identify with MacLaughlin. But I think in our wired society that the instinct to create something real is widespread.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back with a fiction selection next week, as well as some more library-themed updates. Have a great weekend!

2 thoughts on “What I’ve been reading, part 1

  1. I’m excited to read The Woman Who Would Be King — I visited Egypt over spring break one year during college, and toured the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut near the Valley of the Kings. Our tour guide told about how her opponents tried to erase her from history, but ultimately failed (obviously…). She was truly extraordinary.

    • The book is excellent! Cooney goes in-depth, analyzing what we know about rulers and people of the time to better explain the choices that led to Hatshepsut’s rule and subsequent erasure (or attempted erasure). Fascinating stuff!

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