Monday, May 2, 2011

April Books

Six books this month, including several long ones.  It helped that I had a weekend retreat mid-month to catch up on my reading, sleep, and yoga.  It's amazing what three days of solitude and relaxation can do for a person!

  1. (4/1) Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It (Gary Taubes) - This is not a diet book, but rather a survey of the science and history behind weight gain and weight loss.  Considering that I heard about this book from a low-carb blog that I read, I should not have been surprised at the eventual conclusion: eating carbs, especially quickly digested carbs, is what makes us gain weight.  The author also had fairly well-substantiated arguments on a few other behaviors that do and don’t help us lose weight and become more healthy (i.e. exercise doesn’t help a person lose weight, low-fat diets aren’t the best choice, dietary fat doesn’t contribute to heart disease).  Personally, I’ve eaten a low-carb diet a few times in my life and found that it’s a good way for me to lose weight, so I’m receptive to his message.  I don’t think that I want to go all the way to no-carb, but if I needed to lose a lot of weight I might consider it.
  2. (4/5) The Land of Painted Caves (Jean Auel) - Oh, the long-awaited conclusion to the Clan of the Cave Bear series.  I very rarely buy books, but this one was pre-ordered and delivered to my doorstep on the day it was released.  I exercised extreme self-control by finishing the book I was reading at the time (see above) before tearing through this one.  I don’t want to give anything away in my review, but I have to say I was unimpressed.  I couldn’t not read this book, after loving the others in the series.  I had to know how the story ended, what became of Ayla and Jondalar, etc.  But this book was very poorly written.  The repetition is sometimes excruciating.  There’s not much of an arc to the story and the plot and dialogue seems very simplistic.  Auel obviously did a lot of research for this book, but I got the feeling that her research guided the storyline, and it’s just not that interesting to read about every detail of every major painted cave in the “Zelandonii region”.  As a parent, I was interested in Auel’s “parenting politics”, as expressed through the parenting choices of her heroine.  She obviously has strong opinions about babywearing, cosleeping, breastfeeding, swaddling, EC, etc.  As a recent nursing mother, I appreciated the way Ayla’s infant’s feeding needs were at the top of her mind, even when she was pursuing her other interests.  All in all, I would say that if I didn’t already care about the characters and want to know what would happen to them, I would not have finished this book.  In a way, I’m glad this is the last one.
  3. (4/8) The Help (Kathryn Stockett) - I find it hard to believe that I almost returned this book to the library without reading it!  This is one of the best books that I’ve read all year.  It’s the story of black maids and the white women for whom they work in the deep south just before the civil rights movement.  Although it’s fiction, it feels like a true story.  Heartbreaking and uplifting, funny and inspiring.  Highly recommended.
  4. (4/22) East of Eden (John Steinbeck) - I’ve read a lot of Steinbeck in my life, but never picked up this one before this month.  It’s our book club selection for the month, and I’m happy that I was nudged in this direction.  I have to wonder how much of this story is autobiographical, with a sometimes first-person narrator named John Stienbeck.  The parallels to the Cain and Abel story from Genesis are not-at-all subtle, with a long discussion about the story prior to naming a pair of twin boys Cal and Aron.  I loved the development of the house servant Lee, who is one of the most memorable and wise characters in the novel.  There is a strong thread of good-versus-evil, although “good” often equates to naiive and “evil” equates to clever.  And while “evil” can be reformed, “good” rarely becomes smarter...  
  5. (4/26) Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Helen Simonson) - I’m learning to trust my library.  I picked this book up from the “Lucky Day” shelf, which consists of popular books that would usually have a long wait-list, but not this time!  It’s your lucky day!  I have a bad habit of not liking to browse for books; I’d rather read something that was recommended by a friend or blog whose opinions I trust.  But after this book and The Help, I think I need to give my local library more credit.  I read this entire book in one day while recovering from the stomach virus that ran through our household.  It was a light-but-sharp romantic novel featuring an elderly gentleman living in a small village in England.  It touches on many topics such as the clash of cultures and religions, relationships between fathers and sons, the morality of primogeniture, and the love lives of the older generation, all written in sharp prose with a memorable main character.  If you like this sort of thing, then you should by all means read this book.  There is a lot of discussion of tea, as you might expect from a book about an older English gentleman.  
  6. (4/28) Archangel (Sharon Shinn) - Very fun fantasy novel (the first in a series of five) recommended by my friend Sharon.  I read another book by this author last month, and noticed several marked similarities between the two.  Strong female character, the unwilling bride taken from poverty to become a very powerful woman, gradually falling for the “guy” (or in this case angel) who "abducted" her, a personal connection/empathy with the less-well-off classes, unexpected powers or skills on her part.  I was a bit unsure if I could really get into a book about angels and singing, but that turns out to be a fun part of the book, not one that's hard to read about.  I put the second one on hold to read during my vacation next week.


Alex, Andrea, Lucia, Magdalena Jones said...

I love how you do this, it helps me choose books when I go to the Library to Go Audio selections. :-) Have you read the Hunger Games yet? I wonder what you'd think.

LibraryHungry said...

Have you read the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society? You should. It's also a somewhat light and romantic but very sweet post WWII story set in England.