Friday, July 31, 2015

52 Weeks of Reading - July

And so ends another month!  And so begins a monthly recap of reading!  I managed to finish a solid eleven 200+ page books this month.
July 1 - 4
*NONE

July 5 - 11
*The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther
*Pig by Andrew Cowan
*Fat Cat by Robin Brande
*Stuff White People Life: The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions by Christian Lander

July 12 - 18
*El Deafo by Cece Bell
*Alex and Me:  How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene Pepperberg

July 19 - 25
*The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden, completely revised edition, by Karen Newcomb
*American Furies: Crime, Punishments, and Vengeance in the Age of Mass Imprisonment by Sasha Abramsky

July 26 - 31
*Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
*Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams
*Drawings by Kurt Vonnegut
Gosh, I read a lot of good books this month.  I guess I'd have to say my favorite was Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg.  This book blew my mind about how smart non-human animals are.  And that is saying something since as I certainly thought they were smart before.  This parrot though!  Seriously!  I was unprepared for such avian cleverness.  There is a scene where the scientist, Irene, is trying to run some tests (identifying different colors and shapes) on Alex.  Alex doesn't want to do the tests anymore and so keeps giving false answers.  Frustrated, Irene puts him in his room for the night and, like a little kid, Alex immediately rescinds his bad behavior with an "I'm sorry," followed by the correct answer and a plea to "come back!"  It was so amazing and heart-warming.  Even if you don't read the book you should watch this video.  How remarkable!  I think so many people think animals are dumb.  Not me.  I think they have a totally different kind of intelligence.  This intelligence is especially notable in animals that are encouraged in it.  Its interesting how parrots can help up bridge this gap in understanding because they can be trained to speak and understand our human languages!  This also lead me to the realization that parrots speak any language they are taught!  I'd only heard them speak English before, but a quick youtube search brings up videos of birds speaking GermanRussian, JapaneseFrench, and more.  Birds are so cool.

The collection, Drawings, by the late, great Kurt Vonnegut was great.  I love that guy.  He was so quirky, creative, and intelligent.  There were two introductions--one artsy and one personal.  The former was a bit over my head.  The latter was written by Kurt's daughter, Nanette, and was tremendous.  Kurt's doodles are sometimes simple and other times wildly complex.  Of course, there was a section devoted to self-portraits.  I love his self-portraits, his abstract and geometrical renderings, his appreciation of humanity.

I also enjoyed Stuff White People like a great deal.  It made me laugh out loud while it made fun of me.  Turns out, I like a lot of the stuff white people like!  Ha!  Of course, its all generalities, but as I was reading there were only a couple of entries that I thought were way off.  Even if I don't like Oscar Parties, say, I have friends and family that do!  Its sarcastic and caustic at points making it, in my opinion, a fun, satirical read.

There weren't really any bad books this month, though I hit a slew of coming of age novels that were not stellar.  All were fine books, don't get me wrong, but they didn't wow me as some of the others this month did.  More two or three stars instead of four or five.  The Saffron Kitchen and Pig were both sort of coming of age novels involving race and place.  The Saffron Kitchen is set in Iran and Pig in Scotland.  The Saffron Kitchen made me ever so grateful for the family and culture I was born into--what a blessing!  Fat Cat was the story of a girl who tries to go paleo (in diet, transportation, cosmetics, etc.) for a science project with the latent purpose of sticking it to a boy who broke her heart.  The love story was pretty cliche, but I liked how the female lead was really into science and scholarship.  She also becomes a vegetarian by the end and saves a vegetarian restaurant for closing.  Ha!  Veg fiction!  I didn't know that when I picked up the book.  It was just a coincidence.

El Deafo was probably my favorite of the coming of age stories  This time it was about a young girl who is rendered deaf following an illness told in the form of a graphic novel .  Another book to make me count my blessings, including the ability to hear clearly.    It also made me think of my step-father who grew up deaf.  He was quite adept at getting by in the hearing world.  I suppose one has to be!  Since it was a graphic novel it was a very quick read.  I really like graphic novels.  I was glad to see my library had gotten a new one.

American Furies was horrifying and thought provoking.  What is the aim of a prison?  To rehabilitate or to punish?  I spent a lot of time thinking about that.  It seems to change with the political and social winds.  I don't have the answer, but I do not think that three strikes laws and juveniles being sent to adult prisons is going to solve our crime problems.  I know its not so simple, but if we spent the money we do on the prison complex on social reform maybe we would need so dang many of them.  There were some staggering statistics in there.   It was a fascinating historical glimpse into the justice system and a chilling cautionary warning, too.  It made me reflect on a book I read earlier this year called Shakespeare Saved My Life which centered around educational efforts in solitary confinement.

Speaking of horror and staggering statistics, the book, Hitler Youth, was also quite filled with them.  I mean, I think it would be hard to write a book on the topic without that being the case.  This book was a Newbery Honor Award winner and quite compellingly told the story of the rise of Hitler, the propaganda campaign among its citizens, especially the young, and the role they played in the ensuing war and holocaust.  It is amazing how fast it all happened and how openly.  In the book the author reports that at one point more that 80% of German young people were in the Hitler Youth.  Its incredible to me to imagine that sort of group uniformity and solidarity.  If only it had been used to do something good.

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History was quite good.  Just the sort of narrative non-fiction that I enjoy.  I learned quite a bit about the miraculous breast and all it can do.  Its the only human organ that does most of its growing after we're born, for example.  Or that while chimpanzees chests will swell while they're breast feeding their young due to swelling milk glands, humans are the only primates that have breasts all the time.  The book was also rather horrifying, in its way, when the author started delving into the connections between environmental pollutants and breast health.  That part made me want to get rid of everything plastic and covered with flame retardant...

I already gave a review of The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden.  As such the only thing I will add is that I read every single word in the book.  I don't count a book on my list unless I do.  I think Matt thought I was a little crazy.  He said that reference, how-to type books don't necessarily need to be read in order, cover to cover.  In general, I agree, but not when I was reviewing the book.  I could see what he meant though.  When I need help sewing I just look things up in the index of my sewing book--I don't read the whole thing!  It made me think that perhaps I should keep a list of the books I utilize for reference as well as those I actually read cover to cover.  Maybe.
Weeks passed: 28
Books read: 48*
*With 48 books read I am already at 92% of my goal and there are still 153 more days left in the year.  I am well on track.

Recaps for the previous months of the challenge can be found by following these links:  January, February, March, April, May, June.

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