I read a lot, always have. The written word is my sanctuary. I find peace and inspiration there.
A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.
– Neil Gaiman
One of my favourite lunch break or on the way home from work activities is to browse titles in a bookstore. I am still in love with the book as physical object. I’ve tried reading e-books on various devices but the experience leaves me cold. There’s something magical and warm about the object itself – the design, the heft, the smell of the paper, ink and binding glue. I am a book nerd.
As you can see from the list of books on my to read list over there on right, I plan big when it comes to reading. I never find enough time in the day or in the week to read. Life gets in the way. Work gets in the way. When I take the bus to work, I read on the bus. I can’t wait for my bus to stop at the Canada Line in the morning. That’s where the crush of riders empties out and I can usually snag a seat where I can settle in for a good half hour read. In the winter months I bring a little flashlight on the bus so I can read comfortably.
So, I thought I would share my love of the written word on this page here. I won’t bore you with long-winded reviews of books I’ve read. I’ll focus on short, micro reviews (3-5 sentences) and will attempt to rotate them monthly.
kele’s Micro Reviews
May 2017 | Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
April 2017 | Kameron Hurley’s Geek Feminist Revolution
This book reads more like a manifesto than your typical collection of essays. Hurley writes in a fun and provocative style about the rise of women in science fiction writing and the future of the genre. She calls upon other writers to see themselves in that future – as geeks, as feminists, as revolutionaries. I’ve encountered Hurley’s writing before, in her 2014 Hugo Award winning blog post, We Have Always Fought, in which she sets out to unravel the stereotypes thrust upon women in the scifi genre. Highly recommend reading this one – you won’t regret (or even notice!) the time invested it’s such a fun read.
March 2017 | Don DeLillo’s Zero K
This novel left me cold. It was stark and meandering and lifeless. Perhaps this was intentional, so DeLillo could impart the feeling of the binary of death/eternal life that he examined in this book. The Guardian’s review of the book suggests that the book (and other “late period DeLillo fiction) “needs to be read more than once to be understood, and that they sometimes take years to mature in the reader’s mind.” This is definitely not one I’ll read twice. I felt no connection (empathy, sympathy, respect, loathing, envy…) for the characters or their story. Actually, there was no story. There was nothing to grab on to. No hooks in to the internal world of end-times believers who would go to great lengths to preserve their biological selves in order to be “born again.” Cold, lifeless and boring.
February 2017 | James Gleick’s Time Travel
Featured in Brain Pickings Greatest Science Books of 2016, James Gleick’s meditation on time travel is a philosophical, literary and scientific examination of one of the great mysteries humankind has not yet solved. Gleick, though, does not believe it can be solved and brings his thesis crashing back to the here and now with Stephen Hawking’s “Chronology Protection Principle.” He argues that recent investigations by physicists and theorists of all sorts are too influenced by science fiction. And, our best and safest method of time travel remains firmly routed in our imaginations.
January 2017 | Multiple magazines & articles
January saw me consumed with reading news and political opinion. I subscribed to both the New Yorker magazine and to the Guardian newspaper over the holidays – believing that supporting independent journalism was something I should get behind.
December 2016 | Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes
This is one of those books that is on many must-read lists that I’ve seen over the years. I picked up a copy at my local library and read about a third of it and couldn’t get in to it. Not sure why, but I just wasn’t pulled in to the story. Strange because I usually love scifi or magical realism. The author photo on the book jacket also showed Mr. Bradbury lovingly holding on to his black cat…What more could I ask for?
November 2016 | Edward O. Wilson’s Half Earth
This is one of those books I had on hold at VPL forever and then finally got my hands on it. It’s popular one so it had many holds on it which, of course, translated to a short reading time for me. I ended up buying this book because I wanted the time to read and reflect on what Wilson is proposing – that we dedicate half of the earth’s surface to nature to resuscitate our struggling biosphere. In the doom and gloom of the last days of 2016 and into 2017, I needed to read this book. Wilson is no doomsday believer, he’s optimistic that humans have the ability and the will to reignite lost biodiversity and turn this ship around. I needed to hear that.
October 2016 | Lisa Scottoline’s Every 15 Minutes
I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction, but thought I’d give this one a try. The title and description on the back cover perked my interest…It’s a novel, a mystery-thriller about a psychiatrist at the mercy of a sociopath. I didn’t find the book very well written. I thought if anything, I could learn some tips on how to deal with sociopaths. Scottline left few clues and I had no inkling that the main character’s good friend and potential new love interest would turn out to be the sociopath plaguing him. Maybe I don’t have a good mind for cracking mysteries or am naive and unable to identify bad people. I don’t think so. I managed just fine with mystery giants like Kathy Reichs and Sue Grafton. I definitely do not recommend anyone invest the time in reading this 400-plus page novel.
September 2016 | Claudia Kalb’s Andy Warhol was a Hoarder
If there is one unifying message in this book, I’d say it’s do not judge those with mental health challenges. Kalb has researched the inner lives and peculiar habits of some very famous personalities, including Marilyn Monroe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Princess Diana, and Albert Einstein. Kalb is a journalist, and does not pretend to be a psychologist. Her stories are investigative and entertaining and attempt to demystify mental illness by illustrating that mental illness and trauma are as indiscriminate with the brilliant and famous as they are to the rest of us. The title alone is a conversation starter. Every time I opened the book in public or had it sitting on my desk at work people asked me about it.
August 2016 | Muriel Barberry’s The Life of Elves
This novel is a literary fantasy, with an unfortunately opaque layer of prose that prevents the reader from fully embracing the story and it’s message. I was initially drawn to this book by it’s title and cover art and then by it’s description of being a fantasy in which humans are warned about the error of their ways by a magical elven underworld. I had high hopes for this title – it appealed to my attraction to fantasy, morality tales and magical realism – but, despite multiple attempts, could not find my way to Barberry’s magical world to hear her message.
July 2016 | Christine Kenneally’s Invisible History of the Human Race
A fascinating examination of how the history hidden in the depths of our DNA may affect who we are and where we’re headed. Kenneally interviews those in charge of the Mormon genealogical database and documents how the Mormon quest for confirmed lineage has influenced and driven scientific advances in genomics and helped legitimize genealogy. She also gives voice to the works of molecular biologists (how genes shape physical characteristics), population geneticists (how reconstructing genetic composition of centuries-old populations helps to deepen our understanding of history), genealogists looking to trace family lineages, and others. As someone who has studied history, I have heard the incantation “history repeats itself again and again.” After reading Kenneally’s captivating book it seems that scientific evidence has now caught up to belief and innate knowing.
June 2016 | Dave Stewart’s Sweet Dreams Are Made of This
A thoroughly entertaining romp through ’80’s and ’90’s pop music! Stewart is a great storyteller and you get the sense from his writing and the hopped-up action in the book that he doesn’t linger in one place for too long. I loved the book. It brought to life many of the heroes from my formative years, including Annie Lennox. Lennox seems like an elusive shadow in most of the book, especially considering the copious details Stewart provides about other artists (including Stevie Nicks, Mick Jagger and others). As I finished the last page and closed the book, my respect for Dave Stewart was amplified for 2 reasons – One, I appreciated that he didn’t spill intimate details of his romantic relationship with Lennox and, two, I also became aware of how much music from the ’80’s and ’90’s he either had a hand in writing, producing or influencing. Impressive!
May 2016 | Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything
This book is written in the same reader-friendly, lucid style of Klein’s earlier works (No Logo, Shock Doctrine). It’s a terrifying book, really – you have to get through the hefty evidence of doom (i.e., we need to change the capitalist system at all costs and this is no simple task) before getting to the hope in action already evident in small, grassroots start-up social activism springing up everywhere (i.e., change will be spurred on by the critical mass of small actions converging).
I had the good fortune of securing tickets for the screening of the film version of This Changes Everything at the Vancouver International Film Festival in the fall of 2015. Klein and her husband and collaborator, Seth Klein, were in attendance and did Q&A after the film. I’d recommend seeing the film before tackling the book. Though Klein’s prose is engaging and compelling, the film has the advantage of bringing to life the personal stories of the individuals who embody Klein’s argument in a way that flat prose cannot.
April 2016 | Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last
If you haven’t read Atwood’s Maddam dystopic trilogy you should! You’ll catch a glimpse of what living in coastal North America may be like sometime this century if humans continue to push the global temperature up. Study up!
This book is not part of the trilogy, but I would say it’s a prequel. It’s an examination of the systemic inequities and toxic politics that have us careening down a path toward destruction. Told in true Atwoodian style, with themes of gender politics (a continuation of the Edible Woman perhaps), social and political control (how we could end up in the world of the Handmaid’s Tale), and self deception (hello Alias Grace), our laureate is re-visiting old themes and twisting them with unsettling results. A creepy yet comic read.
March 2016 | Elain Chin’s Lifelines: Unlock the Secrets of Your Telomeres for a Longer, Healthier Life!
Delving into personalized medicine and the the science behind optimal health, Chin makes accessible the integrative science of healing for the lay person. She explores the Nobel Prize winning work of Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and her ‘discovery’ of telomeres as the key to disease prevention. The book is written with great enthusiasm and optimism and child-like wonder at the power of scientific discovery. I can’t help but think that science is finally catching up with common sense and alternate (to allopathic medicine) methods of healing.
February 2016 | Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See
The winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize…A beautifully written story of fateful intersections and painful divisions during World War II. Written in a episodic style, Doerr flips us from one reality (a blind French girl named Marie-Laure) to another (an orphaned, engineering German boy named Werner) and exalts the technology that connected them – radio. The writing is rhythmic and the story switches are quick until Marie-Laure and Werner finally meet. It’s at this moment when Doerr’s thesis becomes clear – that in the throes of chaos and destruction, people still try to be good to one another
January 2016 | Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life
Imagine living your life over and over again, and having multiple opportunities to get that something you were born to do right. This novel plays in the middle binary spaces between life and death, choice and destiny. I paused many times while reading it and wondered what if? about my own life.