Monday, May 30, 2016

Best of the Bunch: May 2016

Today I'm sharing the best book I read in May.

Of the 12 books I read this month, I had just one 5-star read, and it is definitely one of the best books I've read this year.

Being Mortal is a rare book that honestly and accessibly deals with the end of life and all that it entails. Atul Gawande takes us from nursing homes to hospitals to show how modern medicine's triumphs in extending life have made it harder and harder for us to accept the true end of life when it approaches. We focus on keeping the elderly "safe" even if it means depriving them of all the things that give meaning and quality to their lives. We put the terminally ill through painful, expensive, and increasingly fruitless efforts to extend their life just a little bit longer, even if it means they miss out on having a "good ending," where they can continue to pursue their goals and relationships and manage their suffering. I want to get this into the hands of every medical professional out there, but in the meantime, everyone else ought to read it too.

What is the best book you read this month? Let me know in comments, or write your own post and link up below!

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Ten Books I Picked Up on a Whim

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

I rarely pick up books on a whim anymore — I much prefer getting recommendations and then working my way through these books on my to-read list. However, for a short time I volunteered as a shelf reader at my local library, so I picked up some books that way, and other books have found their way to me unexpectedly. Here are some books I hadn't heard of before I decided to read them!

1. The Autobiography of an Ex Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson
This book I found on my brother's bookshelf when I was staying at my parents' house one time, and I guess I was bored because I sat down and read it all. (It's a pretty short book.) Knowing nothing about it when I picked it up, I don't think I realized until I was done that it was actually a novel and not a true autobiography.

2. The Book of Sarahs by Catherine E. McKinley
I came across this randomly in the library at college and picked it up because 1) it was about adoption and 2) I have been inadvertently called "Sarah" for various reasons throughout my whole life. Although the writing wasn't great, this book started me on looking more into transracial adoption and was one of the reasons we ultimately chose not to adopt a child of another race.

3. The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples by Larry Burkett
I picked this up at a garage sale the summer we got married, while we were out searching for secondhand furniture for our new apartment. Although some of the ideas are really dated and occasionally sexist, I found Burkett's practical tone an antidote to the guilt I'd felt after reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad about the fact that I was just getting a regular office job. Nowadays I would recommend I Will Teach You to Be Rich, which is a better book about defining and achieving your own definition of "rich," but this one was a good starting point for me at the time.

4. Devilish by Maureen Johnson
My then-fiancé and I spent a summer living with his aunt in New Jersey in her big, non-air-conditioned Victorian. We were both sporadically employed that summer, and on many days I would make the sweltering walk to the local library where I would spend the afternoon reading in glorious air conditioning. This was one I picked up because I recognized the author's name from vlogbrothers, but it wasn't nearly as good as some of Johnson's other work that I've read since.

5. How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill
This is one that caught my eye while shelf reading. Like many other less-well-known memoirs, the writing isn't stellar, and yes, it can come off like an advertisement for Starbucks. But I still remember scenes from this "riches-to-rags" story of a laid-off middle-aged white guy who gets an hourly job at Starbucks and has to totally revamp his worldview.

6. I Had Brain Surgery, What's Your Excuse? by Suzy Becker
This is another one from shelf reading — I guess I'm a sucker for an interesting title and fun cover. This one actually ended up being quite good — I laughed a lot and I learned a lot.

7. I Like Being Married by Michael Leach and Therese J. Borchard
Another shelf-reading pick. I read this when we'd been married for a little over a year, and it was a nice contrast to the doom-and-gloom and sitcom portrayals of marriage everywhere. It's basically a collection of quotes and stories from people (including some celebrities) about why they like being married or about meeting their spouse. Nothing earth-shattering, but it's a cute, sweet book about the positives of marriage.

8. Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical by Fr. John R. Waiss and James G. McCarthy
It's been a long time, but I'm almost positive that I found this book while I was a trip to a local monastery with my Christian scholars program in college, and I bought it on a whim. It turned out to be an extremely helpful book for me — despite being raised Catholic, I didn't know a lot about the tenets of the faith until coming to a Catholic university, and I knew even less about what separated Catholics from Evangelical Protestants. The answer turned out to be a series of things that are surprisingly small but ultimately vital to everything else each faith believes.

9. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog
My brother was actually the one who came across this book, and he sent me a text of the cover with the words "haha" because "Some We Hate" was on the silhouette of a rat. (We had two pet rats at the time.) I was curious about the book so I ended up getting it at the library and reading it. I remember that the writing was a little choppy, but the ideas in the book have stayed with me and informed my thinking about human-animal relationships ever since.

10. Water from the Well by Anne Roiphe
I read this as part of my 2011 "happiness project," for the month I was focusing on Faith. I actually have no idea how I chose this specific book, but given the very small number of ratings on Goodreads (38) I think it's more likely that I came across it at the library than that it was recommended to me. It fleshes out the stories of four women from the Bible, not fictionalizing them but using historical context to describe what was probably going on in their lives. I don't remember if I liked it!

It's interesting to see from this list that many of these books wouldn't necessarily have been recommended to me because their writing was only so-so, but in some cases their ideas have stayed with me for a long time. Maybe I should try to read books spontaneously more often. What do you think?

What are some books you've picked up on a whim?

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

What I've Been Reading Lately (Quick Lit)

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit to bring you some short and sweet reviews of what I've read in the past month. For longer reviews, you can always find me on Goodreads.

We're just finishing up the first of two moves this summer (we'll be moving to a permanent place in August) so I've gotten pretty behind on reading. After finishing the audiobooks I'd been working on for a while, I picked up a handful of short reads just to feel like I finished something this past month! Here's what I've been reading.

Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow: This fictionalized look at early 20th century New York was interesting to read on the heels of reading about this same time period in the (non-fiction) book below. Doctorow weaves together a number of stories around a central story involving an unspecified upper middle class family, peppered by real historical figures and culminating in a story of injustice and terrorism. I found it disjointed but ultimately engaging, though there was a blanket of melancholy over how every character experienced life that I thought was a tad pessimistic.

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn: It took me several attempts to get into this book, as I'm not naturally that interested in history, but getting it on audio helped. Zinn does an admirable job of achieving what he set out to do — namely, tell the history of the United States from 1492 to the present through the lens of what the common American experienced at each stage in history. I definitely think this is worth a read for every United States citizen, and even for anyone outside the United States looking for a comprehensive history of the country.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce: I picked this up thinking it would be a "fun" book based on the title and premise, so my disappointment with it is partly my own fault. It is the opposite of a fun book. The main character experiences physical setbacks throughout his journey, and he's also left alone to contemplate his horrible childhood, his cold marriage, and his nonexistent relationship with his son. The ending is, at best, bittersweet. A lot of people loved this one, so maybe if you know what you're getting into you'll enjoy it more than I did.

The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church by Pope Francis: This compilation of some of Pope Francis' speeches (and some writings) in his first year as pope covers a broad range of topics. Some of his advice is practical, though much of it is pretty overarching, which is not surprising since these were all relatively short speeches or writings. I don't recommend it on audio, as it's worth reading slowly and taking time to digest it. He's much more concerned with how we live day to day, how we pray, and how we care for those most in need than any aspect of the "culture wars" American Christianity seems to spend so much energy on.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary: My gauge for what books children will enjoy is off by about two decades (and my son's not old enough yet), but this seemed to be a good classic Cleary book that hits the mark for kids. It has adventure and danger, problem-solving, and discussions of maturity and responsibility. Certainly it's a bit dated in some ways, but that's OK. I found it to be sweet and definitely one I would reread again with my kids.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park: I liked almost everything about this book; I just wished it wasn't so short. It's based on the true story of Salva Dut, his experience as a Sudanese refugee, and his mission to give back to the place he came from. It's interspersed with a present-day fictionalized story of a Sudanese girl whose village receives a well; these portions are very brief, which can make the book feel unbalanced at times. If you don't know a lot about the Second Sudanese Civil War and the Lost Boys of Sudan, this is a good introduction.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande: This is one of those rare books that I wish I could make required reading for everyone. Gawande takes us from nursing homes to hospitals to show how modern medicine's triumphs in extending life have made it harder and harder for us to accept the true end of life when it approaches. We focus on safety and longevity over quality of life. This is an especially important book for medical professionals, but ultimately is valuable for everyone who will one day face death.

A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron: This was such a sweet book! It's told from a perspective of a dog who is reborn multiple times, always bringing along the lessons and memories from past lives. We also get a glimpse into the wide range of ways that people treat dogs, and the many ways that dogs can be valuable companions to humans. Definitely recommended for dog lovers.

What have you been reading this month? Share over at Modern Mrs. Darcy!

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