December 22, 2014

Recent Reads

177. The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History
The author used to be a sales rep and bookseller, and this little book is a collection of essays, part memoir, part history, of the book industry. And I wanted to love it. It should have been right up my alley - books, history of books, insider information on the publishing industry, etc. The first couple of essays were interesting, but I find that after I put the book down, I am reluctant to pick it up again. There is something about this collection that does not work for me. It's not that the writing is bad, or that the history is not interesting, but after 100 pages it still did not grab me. 

It has lines like this: The most important qualification of all, however, is that the book be compelling enough to to draw the reader into the erotic space of reading, where the mind is enflamed and the body in repose. Well, my body was in repose, but alas my mind was not enflamed. Rating: 2 stars.

178. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty
An excerpt from the author's note at the end of the book: The girl sitting quietly in class or waiting for the bus or roaming the mall doesn't want anyone to know, or doesn't know how to tell anyone, that she is locked in a tower. Maybe she's a prisoner of a story she's heard all her life - that fairest means best, or that bruises prove she is worthy of love. But here's the great thing about stories: They can be retold.

I read fairy tales as a kid, and you know what always annoyed me? The fact that boys got to do all the cool stuff, and have adventures, while the girls were damsels in distress, and simply waited for some guy (granted he was Prince Charming) to come save them. So, so unfair. 

This slim volume is a collection of feminist poetry interspersed with surreal photographs targeted at a young adult audience. As with all collections, I liked some better than others, but overall I loved the honest and unflinching look at fairytales juxtaposed against issues faced by so many girls of all ages. This collection would be a wonderful gift for teen girls, and yes boys too. Rating: 4 stars.

179. A Life Force (The Contract With God Trilogy #2)
This is Volume #2 in the Contract with God Trilogy, and unlike the first book in the series, this one is a collection of linked stories - the characters all interact with each other over the course of the book. The depression years were a bleak time for many, maybe especially for the immigrant residents of Dropsie Avenue. People struggle to make ends meet, and as with all bad times, there are those who make/find opportunities to make a killing (literally and figuratively). 

This volume tells the story through the stock market crash and the harsh winter of 1934. A very unsettled time indeed, which brings with it generational issues as many of the young see things differently than their elders. While I loved the art, there was a bit too much text/newspaper clipping style pages for my taste. Still, a historical graphic novel that is well worth the read. Rating: 3 stars.

180. The Empathy Exams: Essays
How would you define empathy? Do you think of yourself as an empathetic person? Does a person's pain/suffering have to be "real" to invoke empathy? Do you think empathy is innate, or is it something that can be taught? Such great ideas to ponder right?

My book club read this collection of essays this month with mixed reviews. The author is clearly a talented writer, but it seems to me that in order to get her on the radar of the average reader, this book was pulled together with a collection of her previously published and new work.

The first two essays in this collection are wonderfully thought provoking, and if the book had ended there, it would have gotten 5 stars. The problem is that it was followed by other essays, many of which I simply did not care for, or even understand the point the author was making in regards to the theme of empathy. There is some great writing throughout however, and I would highly recommend reading the first two essays in this collection, but be warned that the rest are somewhat choppy. Rating: 3 stars.

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