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Books I have read recently

March 28, 2011

Despite feeling in many ways that I have been in a 2-3 week of non-productivity slump (i.e. I still do things, at least the things that have to be done, but nothing else beyond that), I realized the other day that the plus side to that is that I have been doing a lot more reading.  So what better way to feel like I am actually doing something productive, than by writing a post about good books I have read (while thoroughly procrastinating on things like committee work, church work and job applications).

Blackout (and the sequel All Clear) by Connie Willis

While the middle section of this dragged a bit (in a very similar way to how the first section of its sequel dragged), this was a highly enjoyable look at the lives of British people during World War II. Whether it was piloting tiny, barely functioning boats to rescue soldiers at Dunkirk, enduring over a year of constant bombing on London, flying rocket bombs along the coast or dealing with evacuee children, three time-traveling historians learn the realities faced by average folks dealing with one of the most violent times of the past century. Technically this book is in the science fiction genre, but a better description might be that of historical fiction due to the way 1940s Great Britain is brought to life. My only other warning is that this book ends rather abruptly and if, like me, you were unaware there is a sequel, it can be rather frustrating at first. But have no fear, there is a sequel, All Clear, at it is everything you will hope for after reading Blackout and more!

The Good War by Studs Terkel

Continuing my unintentional theme of World War II, I spotted this book while weeding the 940 section of the library and was reminded that I had been meaning to read it ever since I found out that Max Brooks had based his World War Z on Terkel’s style of oral history vignettes. While quite a lengthy book, it is perfected edited and each person’s story both stands well on its own and contributes to a broader narrative. Lacking any fundamental statement about the nature of war, Terkel instead chooses to let each person’s story speak for itself. Sometimes comic, sometimes sad, but always told with dignity, these stories help bring World War II to light as both a global tragedy and a complex event that took place differently in every person’s life. Highlights include the story of one of the Andrew’s sisters who helped deliver the news of victory in Japan to soldiers in Europe waiting re-deployment, a soldier who ended up marrying the widow of his dead war buddy, a survivor of some of the worst racial violence carried out against African-American soldiers by the U.S. army and many many more. I have to admit I did skim a few of the stories in the middle when they got to be a bit more about the politics of the World War II era, but those were only a few and I overall highly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone with an interest in World War II or just looking for some great stories about very ordinary people.

An Exclusive Love: A Memoir by Johanna Adorjan

I found out about this book on NPR and found it to be a perfect bookend to my World War II theme. A slim memoir, Adorjan tells the story of how her grandparents, Holocaust survivors, committed suicide together after the grandfather was diagnosed with a terminal illness. In their seventies, but still quite active, the couple had been devoted to each other, but never told open with their children or friends about the horrors they had experienced together. A simple, slow-moving story, Adorjan doesn’t offer conclusive answers or compelling narrative, but just a simple look at a couple, who when faced with the idea of separation, choose to end their lives together. Bittersweet and fascinating, I ended up enjoying this book more than I thought I would.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

After getting over my World War II kick, what better to read than a quick YA book about more ultimate tragedy. Mia is seventeen, when she and her entire immediate family are in a horrendous car accident on a snowy morning in Oregon. With her family gone and her own body trapped in a coma, Mia must decide if life is worth returning to. This book greatly appealed to the 14 year old in me, who used to contemplate the worst tragedies that could happen to my normal little life (like many teens, I often wondered how I would deal with various earthquakes, tornadoes, deaths of loved ones, zombie apocalypses). Told in a straight-forward, but sensitive and well-thought out manner, Mia must face the question of how much life is worth when surrounded by such great pain.

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5 comments

  1. Remember Lurlene McDaniel books where everybody got leukemia? Why was that so appealing?


    • I totally remember those (and did indeed read quite a few of them….sigh) and I have no idea!


  2. I’ll check out “Blackout” – thanks for the idea!


    • Awesome, let me know what you think!


  3. I love Studs Terkel. Have you read “Making the Grade” and another great set of reminiscences set in Chicago – I can’t remember the name…. I read the beginning of “If I stay” as an excerpt in a magazine, and now you’ve reminded me about it, I must try my library tomorrow. Actually I’d forgotten the title.

    The sweet potato combination looks delicious – my very favourite vegetable! My new recipe is egg fettucine with chopped parsley, walnuts, black pepper, chilli flakes and grated parmesan. It takes 7 minutes to prepare, including collecting the parsley from the garden (I’m not a serious cook!)



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