The year in reading so far: Highlights and low points.

The best books I have read in 2016 so far…

Non-fiction:

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. (Overdrive Audiobook). I’ve had a bit of a woman crush on Cheryl Strayed since I read “Wild” (side note: the movie did NOT do the book justice). I think she is one of the best white woman authors out there right now. Her voice is absolutely humanizing and beautiful. I am not generally one to seek out advice columns, but if she is the one doling out advice then I can make an exception. And if she ever wants to run an inclusiveness workshop with me, I am so in.

{E04CAB6D-D4B9-4C46-8385-057612C72299}Img400Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, The Sleep You’re Missing, The Sex You’re Not Having, And What’s Really Making You Crazy by Julie Holland M.D. (Overdrive Audiobook). This was very informative. Holland is well-versed in the world of pharmaceuticals and she does not shy away from telling you the truth about the conspiracies behind your over-prescribed meds. As a psychiatrist, she discusses how women are still very much second class citizens when it comes to the world of medicine: our pain is much less likely to be taken seriously and we are much more likely to be put on anti-depressants. The book was centered around the idea that most ailments can be healed through changes in diet, exercise, sleep habits, and stress management. (And a positive sex life, of course.)

22295304Young Adult:

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. (Overdrive Audiobook). I wish I had come across this book when I was a teenager. I loved everything about this novel. I loved that it wasn’t about a girl who was crushing on a boy (okay, so she was interested in a boy, but that wasn’t the main plot line, okay?). I loved that it was about a young boricua figuring out how to maneuver her culture and the secret histories that have been passed along to her. I loved that it was about oppression and art and religious expression. And I loved that the villain was an “evil” white professor trying to appropriate Latino culture. So much yes. This is the only book by Older that I have read so far, but can’t wait to pick up another one.

Historical Fiction:

Comfort Woman by Nora Okja Keller. This book came out in ’97, it was Keller’s debut novel and I thought it was beautifully done. It focuses on a Korean mother-daughter relationship and also grapples with the experience of being a comfort woman during Japan’s invasion of Korea during WWII. The story is so haunting and well written that you won’t be able to put it down. I will be adding this one to my soon-to-be-compiled list of best books by Women of Color.

Books I was supposed to read in college but just now finally got around to:

Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep – a classic. It was a decent read, especially if you are looking to explore the origins of noir fiction. Lots of rain and cigarettes and long-legged women. (Overdrive Audiobook).

Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem – I loved this book. Didion nails the eccentricities of Californian’s right on the head. She is a Sacramento native though, so I expected no less.

brownsvilleShort Story collection:

Brownsville by Oscar Casares. All of these stories are set in the Texas border town that provides it’s namesake. Casares deals a lot with gender roles within the Mexican American family in this collection, and it didn’t feel one-sided. I thought it was very masterfully done.

 

Worst:

41sTyJP03JL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. For some reason, I have yet to read a book that I liked by a white female author who went to law school and then decided to be writer. Susan Cain turned being shy, a defining aspect of her personality that she has struggled with over the course of her law career, into a 352-page novel. Most of us could probably get away with writing an essay or two on shyness and wipe our hands of the issue. But no, Cain thought the topic deserved a whole book. The chapter that made me wince he most though, was the mildly racist, very ethnocentric chapter on Asian cultural “quietness” and how they benefit from this cultural “eccentricity.” As a fellow introvert, I just don’t see why she treats being reserved in a loud culture like it is some kind of trauma. I also had trouble with Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.” This book was a little more useful – it at least had practical tips as to how to formulate productive habits (Lord knows, I needed this). But even so, how is it that a publisher thought it was a great idea to contribute to the vast number of self-help books piling up in the dark corners of bookstores. But then, I picked this book up, didn’t I? So who am I to speak.

Wally Lamb’s We Are Water. (Overdrive Audiobook). I read She’s Come Undone back in high school based on a teacher’s recommendation, hated it, and told myself I would never revisit a Wally Lamb book ever again. But this year I decided that maybe I shouldn’t trust the judgment of my 15-year-old self. So I gave it another go. To be fair, I thought this novel was okay. I particularly liked the character of Annie Oh – she was thorny and problematic in all the ways well-written female characters should be. Many of the characters were well done, like her ex-husband Orion who has that fatal male character flaw of always trying to be the hero in every situation. But I had a really hard time digesting the pedophile perspective of older cousin Kent. I’m sure Lamb was was striving to make his readers uncomfortable. However, I’m not sure what the intent was behind making  parallels between Kent’s death (persecution?) and the death of a black male killed at the hands of a Klan member in the 1950’s. If it was intentional to compare the injustice done to black American’s in the pre-Civil Rights era with the modern day punishment of pedophiles, then I’m not sure I can get with that.

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