It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War (CBR7 #85)

I think I might need to face the fact that I enjoy reading memoirs more than I thought I did. Because, I’ve read a bunch this year, and I can’t think of a single one I didn’t enjoy. The stories they tell are varied and real. When done well a memoir can and should help reveal the truth of the human experience and give the reader something to ponder. I don’t always think I’m pondering exactly the thing that the author intends, but I’m always thinking.

This time I’m reading photographer Lynsey Addario’s It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War. Addario is about a decade older than me, and while I was spending September 11, 2001 huddled in my apartment off campus of Florida State while the capital was on lockdown (Jeb was governor at that time and President George W. Bush was in the state reading to school children) Addario was already into her late twenties and embarking on a career as a photojournalist. That event and the wars it predicated turned Addario, and generations of reporters, into a war journalist while it gave me pause about pursuing my initial field of study. I eventually changed course slightly and now in my thirties work in informal learning. Addario and I are both sure that we made the right choices.

It is a little difficult to describe the scope of Addario’s book. She is telling her own story – how a girl raised by hair stylists in Connecticut turned into a woman self-possessed enough to move around the globe and push her way into her chosen field – and also a story about the political realities of the past 20 years. As she has traveled and photographed the world around her, she has also documented the world for us. I entirely suggest reading this book in its hard cover version, the book is filled with Addario’s work and it is keenly interesting to see the progression of her craft while simultaneously having the visual added to the story. Non-fiction books should have more photographs.

I am thankful for Sophia putting this book on my radar, and suggest it heartily.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

The Elephant Vanishes (CBR7 #84)

I’m at a loss for how to review this book. Earlier today on Facebook I quipped that some reviews just boil down to read it if you want, here’s a plot description. This might be one of those reviews. I had received suggestions to read Murakami based on other authors I liked and a sense of getting out of my own rut. Great! The suggestions were warranted. I did enjoy Murakami’s style, I just didn’t necessarily enjoy the fact that it was encapsulated in short story format.

I have struggled with short story collections in the past, and this year I gave it an honest try to attempt a variety and see if I couldn’t find something that worked. While I wouldn’t rate any of the ones I’ve tried this year below a three (Get in Trouble  and M is for Magic each have some great moments) I don’t love the style or methods that are often applied.  My roommate Ale suggests that people are either short story or novel writers, I also think we’re either short story or novel readers. I am a novel reader.

But, with my personal issues taken out of the equation I think this book is very likely worth your time and a good place to start. It does show its age in some of the technology referenced, but if you want to get an idea of Murakami’s style before diving into one of his novels, this would be a good way to do just that.

Okay, I think I’m done with this review, here’s your synopsis from Goodreads, and happy reading!

With the same deadpan mania and genius for dislocation that he brought to his internationally acclaimed novels A Wild Sheep Chase and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami makes this collection of stories a determined assault on the normal. A man sees his favorite elephant vanish into thin air; a newlywed couple suffers attacks of hunger that drive them to hold up a McDonald’s in the middle of the night; and a young woman discovers that she has become irresistible to a little green monster who burrows up through her backyard.

By turns haunting and hilarious, The Elephant Vanishes is further proof of Murakami’s ability to cross the border between separate realities — and to come back bearing treasure.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint (CBR7 #83)

I don’t really know how to review Pastrix. I think what I’m going to do is tell you a bit about the book itself and its author, and then blog about how some of the things in the book really affected me and gave me some things to ruminate on. So, enter at your own risk, I’m going to talk about faith.

Awhile back Cannonball’s very own bonnie read and reviewed this book and suggested it to me via Goodreads before I even had a chance to read her review (and is why I am counting this book towards my Read Harder Challenge Task 18 – a book recommended to you). I had commented on one of her earlier reviews of another religious book, and she thought this one sounded up my alley. Boy was she right. At its heart, Pastrix is the personal journey of Nadia Bolz-Weber from her teenage years in a conservative Christian environment, her years of living dangerously and then her recovery and rediscovery of faith. In this book she also lays out some general lessons from the trenches wisdom and places to start thinking. I did a lot of thinking while reading this book, which is why it took me almost a week to read its 200 short pages.

Here’s the idea that completely and totally won me over to this book, its author, and her message: “The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.”

Boom. (Yes, we just dove into the deep end of the pool.)

Here in the States (and perhaps in your corner of the world) most of the big issues that divide us are often pulled out of the Bible and people will scream loudly and profusely that their interpretation or reading is correct and anyone who disagrees with them is not only wrong, but unfaithful. And does this ever sting. I am a Catholic who shockingly enough, has read most of her Bible (I have yet to get through some of the Old Testament, but goals are good). In that, and through bible study, I’ve come away with what, to many, would seem a pretty liberal faith. I don’t believe that earth was created in six days; I believe it was created during six passages of time, because that’s both a more accurate translation and also lines up with science. You would not believe the amount of hate that has been spewed my way over the years for daring to hold that point of view and any number of others that I do. I am a lapsed Catholic currently because I have not found a church home that works for me, but I play in a community band based from a Protestant church each week and pray fervently while praising God with our music. These days that is my expression of faith. But getting back to the point up top, that the people who would use the Bible as a weapon against the faithful like me are not using that book for its intended purpose, which is to bring us closer to our faith and God.

Nadia (I’m going to go ahead and call her by her first name, I don’t think she’d mind) also talks at length about how her fundamental Christian childhood created within her a need to place things into boxes: the things that were good, and the things that weren’t. While this is something that she has to come to terms with on her own, the real lesson is learning that while we may put things and people into these containers (I’m SUPER guilty of this one), that God doesn’t. She shares a particularly powerful message from a friend who reminded her that whenever we draw a line between us and others, God is always on the other side of that line – away from us and the decision to exclude. This hit me hard, because, as is completely human, I usually think I’m right and everyone else is wrong. But, in doing so I am not crafting community, I’m creating division. This is not what will heal us, and I unfortunately see it on both sides of the aisle, conservative and liberal, faithful and not. Think about your own Facebook friends, don’t you see the vitriol too? Is that really how you want to be defined? I don’t. My friend Stacey wrote a great blog a few months back about how our friendship strengthens us because we view things differently.  Very, very differently. We don’t have to agree to be friends; we just have to care for each other and that we do. That, to me, is God.

The final thing I want to talk about is Nadia’s discussion of Matthew 20:1-7 which is the story of the farmer hiring laborers which speaks to the idea that God’s generosity and grace may appear unfair. Nadia was assigned this passage to preach, and in a truly beautiful chapter she describes how she got herself in a mental space to preach about it. Here’s her reasoning:  “What makes this the kingdom of God is not the quality of the people in it. What makes Lutherans blessed is not, as I once thought, that they’re somehow different from the people in the Church of Christ where I was raised. Rather, what makes us all blessed is that, like the landowner in the parable, God comes and gets us, taps us on the should, and says ‘Pay attention, this is for you’. Dumb as we are, smart and faithful as we are, just as we are.”  I got chills when I read that because we each have moments, even if we are not the faithful sort, where we feel like we have been placed somewhere for a reason. We made friends with someone; we got a new job somewhere, SOMETHING that seems larger than ourselves. For me, those are the moments when I remember that God is for me. He is working on my behalf, even though I have the pugnacious quality to throw my free will back at him. But here is how Nadia describes the personality of God, as she has experienced it, and how Matthew describes it to us: “it’s the fact that the trampy landowner couldn’t manage to keep out of the marketplace. He goes back and back and back, interrupting lives… coming to get his people. Grace tapping us on the shoulder.” He just can’t stop but coming to get us, and we don’t have to earn it.

These things, as well as a great discussion about the nature of Grace are all in the front half of the book. If I had stopped reading then this would have easily been a five start book for me, but I kept reading and the back half felt a little disjointed. It was mostly organized by theme, but the chapters didn’t hold together as well. But, what made the reading journey completely worth it to me was this thought near the end: “God was never about making me spiffy; God was about making me new.” New is rarely perfect and almost always messy, and I think we can all relate to that. It reminded me of a quote from Jane Fonda when she did the Masterclass program on OWN (yes, I’m a lady who liked to hear people tell their stories) where she talks about how we aren’t meant to be perfect, that we’re meant to be whole. That quote has stayed with me since I first watched that episode many years ago, and I have a feeling that Nadia’s quote about not being spiffy, but new will stay with me as well.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (CBR7 #82)

After discovering that I had not, in fact, read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy I rectified that this year, and giving the audiobook version a spin I was excited. The story I was familiar with came alive and Stephen Fry was simply delightful as the narrator. I was so enthralled that I immediately downloaded the second book in the series The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, from Audible without thinking much about it.

After finishing Pronto I decided to revisit the satirical world of Douglas Adams and set out to listen to another leg of the journey with Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ford Prefect, Trillian, Marvin, and Arthur Dent. But this time I was left underwhelmed. It’s been several days since I finished listening to the book and other than an idea that there really wasn’t much narrative structure left under all the satirical whirligigs and tricks I don’t really know why I didn’t fall for this one the way I did for the first.

The plot is simple – immediately following the events of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy we pick up with a hungry crew aboard their ship fighting with the improbability drive to get to the restaurant at the end of the universe. Except Vogons are attacking, Zaphod’s great-grandfather’s ghost gets called in for a consultation, and our motley crew gets separated from each other, brought back together again, only to be separated once more. They eventually get to the restaurant, and find the person actually running the universe, but it all felt rather – flat.

It’s not that the book is without humor, it has that. It just felt like a set of episodes that weren’t really tied together. Zaphod off with Zarniwoop and Ford and Arthur crashing down onto Earth several million years ago never really felt like they belonged in the same book. Also, this feels like heresy, but I didn’t like Martin Freeman’s voice for Zaphod. I know how Mr. Freeman would react (and likely many of you).

Well then, I think I’m done with this now. While I’m sure I’ll eventually read/listen to the rest of the series I’ve gone a bit off the journey just now.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers (CBR7 #81)

This year I have read three of Mary Roach’s books: Packing for Mars (spoiler – it’s great), Bonk (also very good), and now Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers. It was… it was good. But it wasn’t great. Maybe because it was Roach’s first book (before this one she was mostly a freelance writer for publications like GQ, Vogue, and Reader’s Digest) or maybe this topic just made me see some of the weaknesses in Roach’s style. Let’s discuss!

While I was talking to Ale the other night about why this book only mostly worked for me, and I didn’t love it the way she had when she read it a few years ago, I landed on the idea that there were just too many asides, too many extraneous bits of nothing that took away from central thesis of her work: that there are any number of things that could happen to your body after you are done with it. Great! Tell me all the things. I love learning things, and I love having a bit of a laugh while I do. And that’s Roach’s signature style, humor with a bit of learning new things. But… we spent a lot of time not talking about that as much as talking about other things happening around what happens to your body. I didn’t care very much about those parts.

I did very much care about surgeons practicing techniques on severed heads, gross anatomy labs, and bodies being used as crash-test dummies to make cars safer for those of us who are still living, and the use of cadavers in weapons and ballistics research. Woohoo! I was even all about the chapter about historic grave robbing in order to provide cadavers for early anatomists. But there was too much extra in all of these chapters. Then there was the other thing: the gross out factor. Bear with me, I am not easily grossed out. I have no problem with wounds, poop, what have you. But, and this is such a weird complaint, I had a really hard time reading about the smells Roach describes. It’s a testament to her writing ability that she could turn my stomach by describing odors, but she did.

I still recommend this book if the topic interests you, while it is starting to show its age it is still full of fascinating information. I am now even surer that I will likely ask that my body be donated to science upon my eventual death. I have no interest in being cremated (I hate fire) and burial doesn’t sound that great either. But I could be useful, and that would be nice.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Romancing the Duke (CBR7 #80)

I can’t believe I’m writing my 80th review for the year. We are now well passed my goal of a cannonball and a half. Because of you crazy people I have endeavored to read more authors in romance, not just more romances. This brings me to Tessa Dare and Romancing the Duke.

Meet Isolde Ophelia Goodnight, impoverished 26-year-old securely on the shelf and without a means to support herself. She’s just inherited a castle (in serious disrepair) from her godfather whom she did not know well at all. This is good, because she needs a roof over her head having spent the past many months relying on the kindness of fans of her father’s writing to support her. However, this particular castle is currently inhabited by the Duke of Rothbury, who due to his recent blindness following a dueling accident has been hiding away from society for the past seven months and is understandably behind on his correspondence. Which means he didn’t know the castle he was living in had even been put up for sale, let alone sold and then inherited by Izzy. This story could have gone any number of routes, but I’m glad Dare chose the one she did.

Dare went for quirkiness. There are a lot of quirky, whimsical details in this book. Izzy’s father’s books are romantic tales of daring do in serial format (think Princess Bride). Those stories The Goodnight Tales, have their own brand of cosplayers who travel the countryside basically doing a cross between re-enactments and Renn Faires. I had been appropriately warned about this type of shenanigan by Mrs. Julien, narfna, and Malin and I am about it, so all these things worked really well for me. I love comedy. I have enough DRAMA in my life  and sometimes you just really want to swoon and laugh. And being able to do both in the same book and sometimes on the same page? Delightful.

I also didn’t really care that there wasn’t an actual historical time frame. Its sometime in the early 19th century and Dare is playing around with the motifs of gothic novels. That’s fine by me.  My biggest (only) problems with this one? The stupid pet ermine and Ransom’s name. Otherwise this book worked really well for me.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Blonde Date (CBR7 #79)

I wasn’t planning on reading Blonde Date immediately after finishing The Year We Hid Away. But I had a book hangover and spending some time with the ancillary characters that were to be featured in their own novella seemed to be the perfect plan.  One of my few complaints about The Year We Hid Away was that we didn’t get to spend much time at all with other characters or parts of Harkness College, and Blonde Date fills that gap well.

The story is the blind date set up by Scarlet in the previous book. Andy is Bridger’s next door neighbor from Scarlet’s hometown, and an all-around good guy. Having read The Year We Hid Away I already only wanted good things for him. Katie is one of Scarlet’s two roommates (Blonde Katie as opposed to Ponytail Katie) who needs an athlete date for her sorority’s Christmas party. She has just broken up with her football playing boyfriend, but thankfully as Scarlet and Katie move towards being actual friends and not simply roommates, Scarlet is happy to offer up our good guy Andy, who plays basketball for Harkness.

Bowen could’ve made this a meet cute, wham bam thank you ma’am story and been done with it. But no, she decided to deal with the issues of consent and sexual manipulation in the Greek system at the college and university level. Handled with a deft hand, Andy learns exactly why Katie is hesitant to be at this party, and uses his personality and skills to set her at ease and help her cope. All while making her comfortable with the fact that being sexually active and desirous of sexual activity does not mean that others can take advantage of that. At this point I loved the character of Andy even more.

Things progress from there, and we see what happens on the other side of the fire door from Bridger. Bowen also flips back and forth between each character’s reactions, which was fun. I was pleased with the way the story wrapped up, although not as excited to visit Katie’s ex for the final perspective. Unless Bowen is setting up some sort of redemption for him down the line, I don’t see the point.

All in all a good read – a solid 3.5.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.