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August 4th, 2019

Books 45 to 47

45. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
This is a memoir in verse, with the audiobook version narrated by the author. She tells the story of her life from birth in Ohio, moving to South Carolina and then Brooklyn with her mother, up until fifth grade when a teacher recognizes her talent as a writer. Her story is at once “typical” of a young Black girl growing up in the turbulent Civil Rights era … and a singular experience. She talks of being torn between the two worlds of New York and South Carolina, of growing up in the Jehovah’s Witness tradition, her love of stories, and the fierce friendship she develops with the Puerto Rican classmate who lives down the street. My primary complaint with the book is that it’s too short! At least in audio form, the verse format was very seamless. Charming, sweet, moving, funny, and thought provoking. Fulfills the Litsy Booked2019 challenge prompt: middle grade diverse read. I think there’s a similar Read Harder Challenge task. Read 23-29 July.
46. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
On a cold winter morning in southern Sweden, an elderly couple is discovered brutally beaten. The husband is dead, and the wife has barely survived. Before she dies, she tells the police that the murderers were foreign, which sets off an unfortunate chain of events and causes the lead police investigator to examine his feelings on the matter. He’s also undergoing several relationship transitions and acts like a bit of an idiot in his personal life. This is the first in the Kurt Wallander series, and while I thought the mystery was paced and plotted well enough, I doubt if I will continue with the rest. He’s not a particularly compelling main character, and the story itself was a little bleak. However, the immigration angle was unfortunately timely, though the book was originally published in 1991. Once again I read a month ahead for book club before finishing the current selection. Read 16-31 July.
47. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
This was a delightful palate cleanser, literally and figuratively. High school senior Emoni Santiago is balancing school, work, motherhood, and a possible new romance, while also making decisions about what she wants to do with her life. What she most wants to do is study culinary arts and become a professional chef, but she battles self-doubt as well as objections from some of the people in her life. This is very contemporary with several cultural references and some amusing Spanglish expressions, so it may not age well, but I thoroughly enjoyed it for right now. It also has a gorgeous cover. Read 28 July-1 August.


Wisconsin political scientist Katherine J. Cramer started a research project, with the support of the University, to sound out people about their attitudes toward the University (which might be why the University supported her efforts) as well as to do ethnography on the policy attitudes of Wisconsin residents.

The University even provided her with Wisconsin mementos such as football schedules and Bucky Badger keychains as a way of gaining access to conversations among the regulars at village coffee shops, gas stations, cafes, and perhaps the occasional tavern.  (I might be kidding about the tavern; the descriptions and venues are disguised to protect the human subjects.)  The approach worked in the sense of getting people to trust her and to talk.   (Now, if you really want to get information, you bring donuts dockside, but that's how economists roll.)

It started innocently enough, but then the housing bubble and the Obama bubble and the Walker recall happened, and the resulting The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, our Book Review No. 8, caught on with the punditry in a way that most academic studies do not.
Read more...Collapse )As far as Wisconsin voters preferring Barack Obama in the 2008 primary?  He wasn't Hillary Clinton.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book #39: Mr. Standfast by John Buchan

Number of pages: 348

This book is about Brigadier Richard Hannay, who apparently has appeared in other books by John Buchan. This is set during the first world war, and was written in 1919, shortly after it ended, and involves Hannay attempting to weed out (as the blurb on my book states) pacifists who are trying to stop the war.

I did wonder if a pro-war book was a bit controversial nowadays, but reading it, I got the sense that the people who Hannay was trying to stop were assisting Britain's enemies and trying to help them win the war.

I found this book very dense, so it wasn't an easy read, though there were a lot of moments when I felt absolutely hooked. I noticed that they main plot was effectively over a few chapters before the end, in a way that felt slightly rushed, before switching the storyline to being about Hannay fighting for his country; the ending was a bit different from what I was expecting, though it is possible that was intended to set up the next book about Richard Hannay.

The book also frequently references The Pilgrim's Progress, a book that I have read but not got a lot out of because of the writing style, but which is also the origin of "Mr. Standfast". I had mixed feelings about this, because it was quite a challenging read, and I probably wouldn't be in a hurry to read any other novels by John Buchan.

Edit: After I typed this, I did some research; Richard Hannay is the same character who debuted in The Thirty-Nine Steps; interesting.

Next book: The Famished Road (Ben Okri)



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