The last six months (in books)

A part of my Peace Corps journey includes reading quite a bit. Reading offers me a respite from the language demands of my everyday life here in Thailand. It reminds me that there is a world so much bigger than the village I am living in, even when it hardly feels that way. Below I have briefly reviewed the books that have helped me survive the last 6 months. Enjoy :>

The Goldfinch – Donna Tart
goldfinchI started off the year reading this beautifully dark novel. I have always been particularly drawn to stories about loss and how we grieve and this story speaks to how difficult it really is to mourn the death of someone we love. The protagonist is neither saint nor villain– I saw a lot of myself in the character of Theo as he tries to make sense of the senselessness that is life on earth. Haunting and well worth the read. 8/10

 

 

 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
elegance
Another dark novel but this one came with a surprising amount of levity as well. Barbery is incredibly French and the story thus takes place in France, spinning together the lives of the ordinary and overlooked with the rich and self-celebrated with romance and beauty. I was struck but just how moving this book became the longer I read it– admittedly when I began, I considered stopping because it was a bit dry. But the pace picked up about 1/4 of the way in and I am so glad I kept going. One of my new favorites. 9/10

 

 

Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay
badfeminist
Roxane Gay is a personal hero of mine so in the spirit of honesty, I must admit that I will appreciate any of her work for what it is. Gay is someone who’s career is often described as ‘prolific’ but on numerous occasions, she has suggested displeasure with that sentiment. The essays in this book instead offer certain experiences for certain women. I am so pleased with this book because it affirms what I’ve always suspected: no two women are alike and feminism is both the end-goal and the process with which we get there. 8/10

 

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
breathair
Spoiler alert: this book is a tragedy with very few comedic moments of pause. This book made me think deeply about my life– am I living it right? What is a life well-lived? The concept of human mortality sits at the helm of this read– after all, it was finished after the death of the author. Books like this one come around once in a blue moon and are so profound that it’s hard to process it all at once. I’m still processing this one. 9/10

 

 

The Girl on The Train – Paula Hawkins
train

I read this book on a trip to Bangkok a few months ago and if I am honest with myself, it was a chore to finish. Everyone was talking about it but I found it to be completely lacking in anything worthwhile. I like the premise but the characters were too deplorable and not humanized in a way that made me care about them. 4/10

 

 

 

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
americanah
This book is required reading as far as I am concerned. I re-read this book for the second time as I was getting ready to move to my site here in Thailand. This book deals so much with human movements– geographic movements, emotional movements, spiritual movements. It felt right to read it as I, too, went through a big shift in my life. Adichie is a master storyteller and this book, despite its popularity, is still under-appreciated in my eyes– with its rich vocabulary and human characters, it offers a world that feels so real, it’s unparalleled. 9/10

 

The Monkeywrench Gang – Edward Abbey
monkeywrench
This book is a favorite of my best friend’s so I made a point to bring a copy with me to Thailand. This story is a classic adventure with all of the key elements– danger, suspense, romance, you name it. I haven’t read a lot of Abbey’s work but I love his descriptions– here is someone who really knows how to use language to make a story come to life. My only complaints with this are with the treatment of the solo woman character as a sex object (sigh) and the racist undertones of some of the characters. 7/10

 

 

A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
shorthistory
This book helped me survive the hot season here in Thailand. It is a beautiful beautiful beautiful scientific journey about how the earth has come to be. It begins with a conversation about the big bang and ends at the present day. Bryson is an excellent writer– he has synthesized so much scientific discovery and history in to such a small space while making it come alive. My only gripes with this are that very few female scientists and theorists are mentioned, despite the fact that we know women played a huge role in helping us understand our world’s history. 8/10

 

The Whole Brain Child – Daniel Siegel
wholebrain
I don’t have kids but I do teach first grade so this book seemed like a good investment of my time. I wasn’t disappointed– this book offers some easy strategies to engage children of all learning types and capabilities more fully and more justly. The biggest take away from all of this is that kids want to have fun and be safe, and as the adults in their lives, we can be better about giving them those opportunities. 7/10

 

 

 

The Little Book of Hygge – Meik Wiking

hygge

This book is DARLING. The illustrations by Matt Blease are so incredibly charming and fitting for a book of this nature. This is a quick and easy read about the concept of hygge in the context of Danish life. Hygge is more or less about being cozy, comfortable, well-fed and spending quality time with the people of your inner circle. Yet for Danes it is a deeper concept still and is worth investigating– is there a link between happiness and hygge? 7/10

 

 

A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
farewell
I must admit that I love Hemingway even though he was a misogynist. This book finally made its way to me and I must say, I enjoyed the writing every bit as I have with his other work. Do I think that Hemingway is always digging at more important things below the surface? Eh, English majors tell me so. This book, however, functions well without a lot of deep analysis– a solid plot and character arcs. Probably won’t read again, however. 6/10

 

 

The Giver – Lois Lowry
thegiver
It’s been a minute since I’ve picked up this old classic. I’m always curious about how books end up in the canon– who gets to choose? Overwhelmingly, it seems to be old white men who decide. Yet Lowry’s work has stood the test of time for me. A book about memories, complacency, and fighting for our lives to be something more. Definitely worth the re-read. 8/10

 

 

 

One Summer – Bill Bryson
onesummer
After reading this book, I know an enormous amount of factoids from American history in 1927. Bryson follows many known and lesser-known people through the years leading up to ’27– Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh primarily, but many others as well. Bryson is a very engaging historical writer– his books, while dense, never feel too sluggish to manage. My biggest critique of his work is that the history told here is overwhelmingly white. Bryson does not include many female perspectives either, which is a shame, as his style of writing could be used for such good in the world. 7/10

 

Difficult Women – Roxane Gay
difficult
This book broke my heart. I won’t spoil too much since it came out recently but these short essays are brilliant, relevant and crushing. Gay fully understands that she is not telling the story of all women, but instead offering us many sides to what being a woman can mean in the world. Nauseating at times, this book is required reading for anyone who underestimates the resiliency of women and girls. 10/10

 

 

Current books:

The Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Freire
Feminist Fight Club – Jessica Bennet
The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander

Do you have a book suggestion? Please comment below or email me at paintedpastel@live.com.

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