My Year of Reading Dangerously – June

“Apace” seems to be the name of the game for this reading challenge. I’m just slightly over halfway done at this halfway point in the year, which is a good thing!

1177: The Year Civilization Collapsed – Eric H. Cline: I picked up this book after reading about it in the Notes/Bibliography section of Cowen’s “Complacent Class.” Yes, I am the nerdy person who reads all that stuff in the margins and the appendices and the footnotes. This book informed Cowen’s on the basis of globalization and complacency – the Mediterranean status quo was doing quite well until the disrupting force of the Sea Peoples broke up kingdoms, disturbed trade routes, and crashed economies. A really good read for anyone who likes deep historical comparisons. But my favorite thing was that, while reading, I experienced a delightful Baader-Meinhof (aka frequency illusion cognition bias). One of the Aegean communities discussed in the book was being excavated by archaeologists and was dated and tied to Egypt and the Near East by a piece of porcelain produced by a process called faience. I’d never heard of the process before and wanted to understand how it was unique enough for such specific dating, so I looked it up. The next day, I was unpacking a garden decoration from Germany I had received as a gift, and I read this in the accompanying brochure: “Die Fayencetopferei hat eine lange Tradition. Von den Babyloniem über die Perser und Araber nach Spanien gelangt, kam die Fayence über den Hafen Palma de Mallorca (dort ‘Majolika’ genannt) nach Italien, wo die Stadt Fayenca ihr den Namen gab, unter dem sie im 17. Jahrhundert über Holland nach Deutschland gelangt.” Roughly translated, it says the art of faience has a long tradition that started in Babylon, moving to Persia, Arabia, and Spain before becoming known as Majolica on the island of Mallorca in Italy, and heading to the Netherlands and Germany in the 1700s. So neat!

A Pledge of Silence – Flora J. Solomon: I’ve written before about my fondness for war stories that tell the often overlooked tales of women in combat zones. This novel was one that did an exceptional job of shedding light this hidden perspective, telling a war story about a female combat nurse, including her experience in the Philippines during WWII (Corregidor and Bataan), and the undiagnosed trauma (PTSD) that impacted her relationships once she returned to civilian life in Michigan after the war. This book was a great insight into the shadowy lives of the women veterans of the Greatest Generation, but also offered a look at PTSD that’s helpful in understanding the challenges today’s veterans face.

Euphoria – Lily King: So I feel awful. I’ve owned this book for two years. I started it once, and couldn’t get into it (more like distracted by MBA reading!). I recently picked it back up and read it in a day, the whole time kicking myself because I’d made myself wait two entire YEARS to be immersed in this amazing story. Euphoria won a slew of awards for King, and it’s no wonder why – the story of a husband and wife anthropology team in remote Papua New Guinea and Australia, and the stress their marriage undergoes when they begin studying a tribe down river from a male anthropology colleague. King literally WEAVES the story in past and present, utilizing a first person narrative that migrates from narrator to narrator, interspersed with first person journal entries written by the female anthropologist. A fascinating read for any writer interested in structure and character development, and any reader wanting a gripping, engaging story.

A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman: My husband gifted me this book for my birthday in January. I was excited to read it because it was made into a very well-received movie in 2016, and as I noted previously, I like to read books before seeing movies. I have a soft spot for Scandinavian films and novelists, which just added to the anticipation. And I was not disappointed.  I laughed. I read my husband entire chapters out loud. And at times, I had the “feels” for the main character and his ragtag group of neighbors. Loved every minute of it! This book reminded me of another book (and its movie adaptation!) by another Swedish author that I dearly loved – Jonas Jonasson’s “The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared.”

The Last Woman Standing: A Novel – Thelma Adams: This novel was a bit of a romp – not too serious, but delving into a great character and lending depth to the already well-traversed fictional and nonfictional landscape of Tombstone, Arizona during the Wild West days of silver mining and Wyatt Earp. Told from the perspective of Wyatt’s eventual wife, Josie, it was a woman’s look at both the wild and seedy sides of the infamous Western town. Definitely did a good job of flipping the traditional Western novel on its ear!

Love Anthony – Lisa Genova: I previously read another book that covered the topic of autism, but this one provided the unique twin perspectives of a novelist writing a book on autism as her marriage falls apart and the mother of a deceased autistic boy whose marriage died with her son. The way their stories intertwine – unbeknownst to them – gives the book a sense of breathless anticipation, culminating in “chapters” from the novelist’s book so we, the readers, can see what was created when the two women finally meet. This was a NYT bestseller, and for good reason.

She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders – Jennifer Finney Boylan: When people ask me why I read so much, my answer is generally something along the lines of  “I read because it gives me a perspective I wouldn’t otherwise have.” This book is a prime example of that philosophy in action, and it served me well in this case. As the synopsis reads, “this is the exuberant memoir of a man named James who became a woman named Jenny.” As a well-known writer and professor of creative writing, James Finney Boylan was at the top of his profession. But he was missing a key part of himself – hiding it away from those he loved and repressing his actions, and in doing so, causing himself immense anxiety and deep unhappiness. When Jenny Finney Boylan writes about the unfettered freedom she feels now that her transgender transition is over, you can feel the lightness and happiness in the tone of the words. It’s a powerful transformation, both for Jenny and for the reader.