Summer & Autumn Quarters

It’s officially winter. After a stagnant summer of reading I decided to clump these two quarters together. Nothing too sensational, but I did discover some hidden gems and finally got around to reading the civil war classic The Killer Angels and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I very much enjoyed Johnathan White’s Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean, favoring it for the top spot and placing Chozick’s Chasing Hillary down at the bottom, an emotional vampire of a book that had me dragging it around like an anvil. (Nevertheless I managed to finish it.)

As the end of the calendar year nears, reflecting back, it has been a good time of reading. I had wondered if I would read more in 2020, due to the pandemic, but it seems I maintained my average, being around 20-25 books a year, which I know pales in comparison to the ‘super-readers’ who manage 75 to 100 books per year which is a continual bewildering bafflement to my mind (seriously, my gawds, how do you all retain so much information? I feel as if my head would explode). My rating average lingered around 3.9-4.1, another normal for me (really, I’m not hard to please) and non-fiction seems to have trumped fiction this cycle, as I got through some doorstop-whoppers such as Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism.

So, without further ado, here’s the last leg. Keep your chins high and eyes ahead everyone; we’re almost there, but we still have a long way to go and a lot to do. Thanks for sticking with me.

Stay brave, dear readers. As always, stay brave.

David McRaney’s You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends On Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself
Publisher: Gotham Books
Page Count: 302
My Rating: Three Stars

This is a coherent, straight-to-the-point book. It’s a bit of a data-dump that’s lacking in any in-depth explorative reach, but regardless, I found it to be an enlightening, well intentioned read. Mostly touching upon human biases, You Are Not So Smart is true to its title, proceeding point by point through the endless cavalcade of ways our brains can trick us. David McRaney does not probe too deeply into these irrationalities, and that’s okay, choosing a less invasive, gentler route to self-discovery through 48 small and curt reminders that the mind is a hall of mirrors of fault and folly. Very readable, You Are Not So Smart is light, frank, and intendedly aware.

Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels (The Civil War Trilogy #2)
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Page Count: 355
My Rating: Four Stars

Winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize, Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels is historical fiction at its most visceral. An account of the Battle of Gettysburg, in the third summer of the Civil War, told from the viewpoints of men both red and blue, Shaara chiefly drew upon the letters and documentations of the men who were there, avoiding academic theory and allowing his writing to be guided by his own intuition and understanding of the direct words and descriptions from the soldiers themselves. I very much enjoyed this book, Shaara being a phenomenal writer and deftly capable of making characters feel real and flushed out. Though perhaps not a great work of history, it is, undoubtedly, a great work of fiction. It is ekphrastic in essence, and tremendously moving at times. Highly recommended.

Johnathan White’s Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean
Publisher: Trinity University Press
Page Count: 360
My Rating: Five Stars

My favorite read of the autumn season, Jonathan White’s Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean is a decadent undertaking of travel and exploration. The ocean is a masterful place, full of awe and mystery, and White captures this mystery and bottles it in the form of a 360 page hardcover. Full of engaging topics that stretches across the globe, Tides is wonderfully conceived and well written, and certainly worth any reader’s time. Read my full review up on Nothing in Particular.

Robert I. Simon’s Bad Men Do What Good Men Dream: A Forensic Psychiatrist Illuminates the Darker Side of Human Behavior
Publisher: American Psychiatric Publishing
Page Count: 376
My Rating: Four Stars

A bit old but surprisingly up to date with just a few hitches here and there, Robert I. Simon’s Bad Men Do What Good Men Dream is basically a layman’s handbook to the world of forensic psychiatry. Disturbing in its subject matter but very well meaning, Simon “breaks down the criminal mind” (as many true crime books do), and in turn creates a basic template for recognizing signs and behaviors of abuse in both victims and perpetrators. Unexpectedly, the most useful and insightful chapters in Simon’s book have nothing to do with perpetrators at all, but rather the chapters on incest/rape victims I found to be particularly compelling. It definitely expanded my understanding, and compassion, in interpreting the often strange behaviors of victims of sexual abuse. If nothing else, Robert I. Simon’s book earned four stars for that.

Margaret Willes’s A Shakespearean Botanical
Publisher: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
Page Count: 128
My Rating: Four Stars

Well this is definitely a hidden gem. An absolutely beautiful book, Margaret Willes’s A Shakespearean Botanical will satisfy any reader who is interested in Shakespeare, botany, or Elizabethan and Jacobean England. I got this book on a horticultural hit I had some years ago, but eventually I got burned out reading about plants and it sadly sat on my bookshelf unread. This year, being the year of ‘go-ahead-and-get-shit-you’ve-been-meaning-to-do-done’, I picked it up and powered through it. One of the fascinating aspects of William Shakespeare is his fabulous knowledge of botany, a surprising intellectual quirk of his that has engaged historians for centuries. This book is an exploration of all green-things Shakespeare. Featuring images from John Gerard’s herbal of 1597 (a book that is theorized Shakespeare might have owned or had access too) Willes’s A Shakespearean Botanical encompasses explorations of medicinal and myth for dozens of herbs, shrubs, and flowers, all part of Shakespeare’s beautiful, operatic world. Definitely recommended.

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart ( The African Trilogy #1)
Publisher: Penguin Books
Page Count: 215
My Rating: Three Stars

A novel I really wish I enjoyed more than I did, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is the archetypal tragedy. Perhaps a bit too depressing of a read for COVID quarantine, nevertheless, I read it for the first time and found myself frowning through the lot of it. Achebe’s writing is crisp, moving and tugging, rendering scenes and emotions ex cathedra and providing a bridge to a world and culture long oppressed, misunderstood, and unseen. Achebe is a great writer; but, I felt absolutely terrible reading this book. Our leading character, Okonkwo, is the most unlikable of humans. It’s possible this was an intentional obstacle placed by Achebe to encourage a reader’s deepest empathy, to feel pity for and connect with a character’s downfall who one may otherwise have wished ill upon merely for his bad personality. All and all, a great piece of writing, even through the struggle.

Jeremey Scahill and The Intercept’s The Assassination Complex: Inside The Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program
Publisher: Simon Schuster
Page Count: 256
My Rating: Five Stars

A collection of articles brought forward by The Intercept based upon a leaked cache of slides obtained by Jeremy Scahill, The Assassination Complex confronts head on the USA’s morally corrupt Drone Warfare Program. With a foreword by Edward Snowden and an afterword from Glenn Greenwald*, the book asserts that drones are not the policy–assassination is. A program that has been rose-colored for the viewing public with the myth of “surgical killings”, the staff of The Intercept uncovers direct obfuscations and subversions of language to reveal a program that murders individuals (including women and children) who do not represent any threat to American freedom, all under the generalized malaise of “terrorism”. A work of excellent journalism and a hard hitting deep-state read that I highly recommend.

*On a side note, I was sad to read that Glenn Greenwald (founder of The Intercept) has since left The Intercept recently due to disagreements within the paper. Disappointing.

Roy Hazelwood’s Dark Dreams: Sexual Violence, Homicide, and the Criminal Mind
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Page Count: 273
My Rating: Four Stars

Another true crime read (I know, I know) Dark Dreams is exactly what it proposes itself to be. Focused largely on sexual predators, such as serial rapists and child molesters, Roy Hazelwood presents an articulate and well-plotted tour through the most horrific human actions, calmly steering the reader along a line of logic, making sure one does not fall into emotional folly. Again, a bit out of date as it was published in the 90s, criminal profiling, forensic psychology, and crime scene investigation are all covered. If you are someone who’s interested in true crime, go ahead and read it.

Amy Chozick’s Chasing Hillary: Ten Years,Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling
Publisher: Harper
Page Count: 382
My Rating: Two Stars

And last and certainly least, the book that single-handedly sank my summer reading like a pair of cement shoes, Chozick’s neurotic mess of a book Chasing Hillary was an uphill battle. Pulled from her diaries during her time following the Hillary Clinton presidential campaigns (both of them) and so repurposed into a current affairs memoir, Chozick’s emotionally draining style of writing wasn’t for me, stuffed with a weird amount of majuscule, a rather thick slathering of whining, and an infatuation with her own feelings of inferiority that left be bewildered. It read very much like an overly long tabloid article, or a high school drama, giving me a few light chuckles but mostly eye-rolls. This book was a flop for me, unfortunately. Them the breaks.

Thanks for reading everyone, and keep up the good fight.

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