Thursday, March 13, 2014

my last four books

In February I surpassed my goal of reading 2 books a month and read 4! yay!

First I read The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, like everyone else on the planet. I heard about it on a "must read" list somewhere and bought it, then while it was in transit I started seeing it all over the place and was like "uh, do I really want to read the most popular book on the internet right now?" I also found out it was actually a young-adult book and started having second (triple?) thoughts. But... then it came in the mail and I read the first page and I was hooked. There are going to be people who review this book and put it down because the main characters are teenagers or because you have to go to the YA section of the bookstore to find it, but just don't listen to them. It's beautifully written, incredibly deep and philosophical (not just for a YA book, but for a book, period) and very touching. Yes, it did make me cry (I'm human!) but not in a sappy, deliberately-tugging-at-your-heartstrings, soaring music kind of way. It doesn't jerk your tears, it coerces them. Even if you don't usually like books that make you cry, give it a try.

The second book I read was BJ Novak's One More Thing. I pre-ordered this baby the day that it went up on amazon and lived off of the little teasers that were released online in the weeks before... the epic book trailer, Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak reading excerpts on NPR, sneak peeks on instagram. And when it finally came in the mail I was not disappointed. There were a few stories that I didn't particularly love but the ones that I did like I really, really liked. I absolutely loved his writing style (my favorite author is Kurt Vonnegut and I think some of the stories had the same stark, dry wit) but my favorite thing about the book was how so many of the stories were crafted around the notion of questioning a mundane thing that we all take for granted. My favorite story was The Man Who Invented the Calendar (the full story is available on The New Yorker, here) Either you've wondered these things before (Who exactly invented the calendar? And why the heck would anyone call a month February??) and BJ Novak is finally shining light on a lifelong pet peeve or you haven't wondered these things before and you're grateful to him for finally bringing them to your attention. Either way, he does a brilliant job of it and I wish I was a good enough writer myself to fully express how wonderful I thought his book was.

The third book that I read was The Great Mortality by John Kelly. The subtitle is "an intimate history of the black death" but it took quite a while to get intimate. The first two chapters or so trace the route of the plague across Asia and Europe in the mid 1300's, going into painstaking detail about which merchants entered which ports at what time and how many miles per week the disease trekked across the continent. It's interesting stuff, but I was expecting much more about the actual people who were affected and the way that medieval life was changed by the black death. The author got into that a little more once I was about 3-4 chapters in, but it was still surprisingly dry for a book about what is quite possibly the most devastating event in human history. My main qualm with the book, though, was how often the author would say something in the main body of text -- for instance, his incredibly interesting story about the first recorded incident of biological warfare -- and then when you consult the footnote you find a disclaimer letting you know that most historians believe the above statement to be inaccurate. Um, well why did you include it then? argh! All in all, I did end up liking the book but I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for a different book on this topic.

My last book for February was Tina Fey's Bossypants. I've read it once and then last month I listened to the audio book ... actually re-listened, so I've read this three times now I guess? I just really like Tina Fey, ok? Her book is absolutely hilarious and I highly recommend listening to the audio version if you have the chance. Her words are fantastic but hearing them in her voice with her various intonations is perfection. I was having a particularly rough couple of days when I listened to this and it cheered me up considerably, plus it gave me a little boost of determination and go-get-em' spirit. If laughter is the best medicine, you should definitely keep a copy of Bossypants in your medicine cabinet.