Sunday, August 26, 2012

Reading Updates!

To help get back in the swing of blogging, I thought I'd start out with a fairly innocuous post on reading.

I've been doing a ton of reading lately.

I'm a bit behind on my book Club books:

June: The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomon
It's been a few months since I finished the book and the details are fading.  It was a quick read, I think I read it in less than a week (maybe even a weekend).  I was a bit disparaging about the book as I was reading it, but Gavin's cousin pointed out that I hadn't put it down in hours.  The book is a type of romance set during WWII.  A Jewish girl from Vienna flees to the UK where she becomes a maid at Tyneford.  I've said it before, but the magic of book club is picking up books you'd never read and going on a new adventure.  

July: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

I read almost all of my books on the iPad Kindle app.  With the Kindle app, it starts you on page 1.  Consequently, I rarely see the cover of book club books and I was started to find a few pages in that this was a war book.  Seeing the cover, this is fairly obvious, but without that hint and with only the previous book club books as a guide, I was caught off guard.  The writing style is a bit hard to adjust to, but I think it's a great book.  The author writes about the experiences (and imagined experiences) of soldiers in Vietnam.  As you can imagine, it is not a light book.  It gave me a perspective of Vietnam veterans that is nothing like my previous views.  It's not an easy to read book, but I was glad I read it.  Coincidentally, Gavin is taking a college class on the history of the Vietnam war and I'm interested to hear his thoughts on some of the things I read.   

August: The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
We had some last minute shuffling in our book club (I'm now helping with organizing the meetings!) and in July lacked a host for August.  I suspect it may become more difficult to host in the coming months, so I volunteered.  There is a pile of about 20 physical books on my desk that I've been intending to read and this was on top, so I quickly, and with a little bit of anxiety (hard to recommend a book you haven't read and know nothing about!), chose it so everyone could get started. My mom recommended the book and gave me a copy.  She thought I would like it primarily because of some of the animal tidbits.  She'd read it because of a reference in a book by Max Lucado, one of her favorite authors.

I enjoyed reading the book.  The story moved along well for a book that is primarily about a castaway alone with a tiger on a boat.  (I had a very hard time with the movie Castaway (boring!) so I was a little nervous when I realized we were adrift on the open ocean for the foreseeable future...)  I did not enjoy the ending.  Still, there is a movie scheduled for this fall and I'd like to see how they adapted the story for theater.

Outside of book club I've also been reading!  I recently discovered that our library has an app to allow content to be downloaded directly to my iPad and phone.  I've used the electronic library before, but this is so easy, I can't wait to catch up on all the new releases since I stopped making the solo trek to Palm Springs to the company of audio books!  I've already made a dent:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot 
One of the women in my book club recommended this book to me.  I always love her thoughts on books so when I saw the library had the book, I jumped on it!  It was an incredibly fascinating story about the woman behind the famous HeLa cells used in a vast majority of modern medical research.  The book follows her personal history, the history of her family, the history of the cells and delves into the frighteningly complex world of privacy rights and modern medicine.  All of the story lines were incredibly interesting.  I'm not sure if the author intended you to like the Lacks family or not.  I'm also not sure to what extent my self identity as a scientist (eh, I'm an engineer, but if we're grouping into 'scientist' or 'non-scientist' I'm clearly the first) affected by opinion of some of the ethical issues raised by the author.  Regardless of what side of the debate you ultimately land on, the book does a fantastic job of bringing to light some of the issues of scientific research and human tissue law.

Super Mario by Jeff Ryan
I'm a product of the 80's and you can't really think of the 80's without picturing that little pixel guy in red overalls.  The book was relatively short, so while I'm no real gamer, I decided to download the audio book. It was actually really fascinating.  It was fun to listen to descriptions of games I remember playing as a child (and not as a child! The book even covered the wii!).  Almost every (nintendo) system mentioned, I'd played.  Video games have existed pretty much as long as I have, so I had no idea that they are actually about the same age as I am.  My only complain about the book is that I disagree with Ryan's conclusion.  For one, I don't know that the book really needed a conclusion.  But also, the author concluded that someone had to bridge the gap between 'casual' game players (those who tend towards the Wii/Move intuitive gaming system and simple action based games and the 'hard core' gamers who like involved complex  games and d pad control systems.  I think the camps will always be separate, although ironically, I straddle the middle.  I don't play many video games anymore, but I enjoy everything from Wii sports and Mario Party to the Elder Scrolls and Fable.  But the experiences are different and not everyone will enjoy both.   

If you remember playing the original Super Mario Bros, or even better Super Mario Bros III, you'll probably get a kick out of the book.

Cheap by Ellen Shell
My most recent book, I finished it just minutes before starting this blog post, is Cheap.  I can't really explain what lead me to read this book.  The only thing I can guess is that it's my propensity towards books with single word titles like those by Mary Roach or Malcom Gladwell.  I can't imagine many other reasons for picking up a book about economics for a light summer read.  I also liked the cover art (not the cover art shown above, my copy had a map of the US made out of dimes and nickles).  The book is basically the history of 'discount stores.'  Everything from Walmart and Ikea to the outlet malls and discount racks at department stores.  I thought it was incredibly interesting to look at the retail market 'from the other side.'  I almost always hate shopping.  One of the stores that I love and hate the most is Kohls.  While Shell doesn't specifically address Kohls, she does address their business model.  If you've ever been to Kohls, you'll recognize that it's almost impossible to pay full retail at the store.  Everything is almost always marked down either by a sale of some sort of a discount.  I once paid full price for a shirt I needed for a date only to return literally three days later and buy the same shirt (in another color) for half the price.  It was frustrating.  The author does a good job of detailing some of the implications of modern consumerism and disposable culture. Ironically, I listened to most of the last chapters of the book while wandering around my local Target.  Sorry Shell, I guess I didn't get your full message!

Not sure what's next on my book list, but I'm always looking for suggestions!


  1. I have tried to read Life of Pi like 5 times, unsuccessfully.... I can't get past the first 25 pages or so.... I haven't read any of the others you mentioned, and I've only heard of a few of them.

    I always read a ton of Young Adult Fiction and mostly enjoy those in the dystopian subgenre. I just finished the third book of the Georgia Nichols series by Louise Rennison (starting with "Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging). It's kind of like a teen Bridget Jones. I listened to the first three as audio, and liked them a lot.

    On my kindle I've been reading The Giver by Lois Lowry and am about halfway through the second book called Gathering Blue. And of course, all the books I posted on my librarial pursuits blog are ones I read this summer, and mostly enjoyed.

    1. I love the Lois Lowry Series! I read The Giver years ago and only found out about the other books in the last few years. A few friends of mine had kicked around the idea of a book club for young adult fiction books, there are some great book available.

      How is your library's digital selection? Do you know if it shares a database with the South OC libraries?

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  3. Hey Amy -- love your reading update (I actually had not read all of these yet so a couple new additions to my list, thank you!) The two by O'Brien and Skloot in particular sound interesting :)