August 29, 2016

Recent Reads

126. Pablo: Art Masters Series
I have yet to read a Picasso biography and thought this graphic biography might be a good place to start. I was mistaken. There were lots of people coming and going, and since I did not know many of them, it made for a rather confusing read. I gather this is also a collected edition, which might explain some of the choppiness of the reading experience.

I was expecting a biography of his entire life and work, but this one is rather narrow in scope, and is restricted to the first several years as an artist in Paris. There is all the usual artistic angst, and what I really liked is that this story is told by Fernande Olivier, his lover, obsession and muse for the years they were together. The woman behind the man and his paintings in an interesting angle. I really liked the art and the mood evoked by the color palette used. The story does capture the excitement of Paris in that time period really well. I clearly need to move a biography of the man, and maybe the memoir of Fernande up my TBR pile. Rating: 2 stars.

127. Ballpoint Art Pack: Cool Techniques and Creative Explorations for Drawing with an Everyday Pen
Creative people tend to collect supplies. If you create art, then your hoarding tendencies run toward art supplies, paints, etc. There is this strange phenomena where we often think that if we only knew what paper/pen/ink/insert your crazy here, we would also be able to create in the manner of artists we admire. In the midst of all that collecting of supplies it's easy to forget to actually create, and this wonderful little book reminds us that all you really need is a pen. A simple Bic will do. There are examples that cover various techniques, and the gallery of art is a wonderful reminder that less can be indeed be more. Rating: 4 stars.

128. Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond
I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by the author.

When we think about Pandemics, most of us think about them in a historical context, and there seems to be this strange belief that we'll be able to successfully deal with whatever pathogens come our way with the aid of the super duper drugs churned out by Big Pharma. Boy, oh boy, are we wrong.

How the topics and events in this book are not the headline news every single night is something I simply do not understand. Well, I do understand, because it is much more entertaining to hear about an escaped monkey, than to address the microbes said monkey might be spreading about on it's jaunt.

The topics covered in this book are a clear and present danger to all of us. Not those people over there, but all of us, and if we learn anything from history, it should be that microbes will find a way to become pathogens, and these in turn will find a way to spillover to humans.

I know there are other highly reviewed books out there on this subject but if, like me, you are new to really diving into these topics this is a great place to start. It is easy to read and digest, and the author makes complex subjects accessible to a layperson. This book explores not just the life cycle of pathogens and the history of pandemics, but also explores how medicine, big pharma, global travel, population numbers, habitat and environmental destruction, cultural norms, etc., all affect and contribute to the problem.

There are so many dots this book connected for me, and I learned about events that should have been major news stories that got little, if any, national coverage in the media. I found this a fascinating, educational, and terrifying read. I just picked up the ebook, and have not doubt that I will re-read it. I highly recommend this one. Rating: 5 stars.

129. Dogs and Water
This graphic novel is all about the journey, so don't even think about getting to any particular destination. It's a quick, if rather surreal, bleak, and dreamlike read. There is is guy walking down a long road with a stuffed bear strapped to his back. It's not clear where he came from, and equally unclear where he's headed. What is fascinating about this book is that the author is able to convey such a variety of emotions within this stark and lonely landscape. The simple black and white art is quite effective in evoking the right mood, and when I turned the last page I was unsure who was doing the dreaming. Rating: 2 stars.

130. The Vegetarian
Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2016.

I listened to the audiobook which was well narrated by Janet Song and Stephen Park.

The fascinating thing about reading translated works is that the worlds you step in are at once both bizarre and familiar. This South Korean novella is setup in three parts, each with a different point of view. I cannot quite explain why this story wormed it's way into my psyche, but I could not stop listening to it.

On the surface this is a rather simple story. A woman decides to stop eating meat, in spite of the title she is technically a Vegan, and as anyone who decides to buck popular culture knows, there are huge ramifications. I love that we don't really get her point of view, but rather each of the three narrators tell us about her and how her decision ripples out in their lives. The narrators are her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister, and from their accounts we might actually get a better understanding of the situation than if we had simply heard from the vegetarian.

This little story explores really big themes quite deftly. In a sexist, patriarchal world, does a woman have agency over her life? Can she even make a decision about something as simple as what she puts in her mouth? Mental health is still a taboo subject, especially in many communities of color, and I admire the author for the way she handles it here. Once you decide to discard one social norm, does it make sense to follow any others? So much to chew on with this one.

The only reason I docked a star is because I felt the ending was rather rushed and I was left wanting more, but maybe that was intentional on the author's part. Rating: 4 stars.

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