I stopped doing book reviews a long time ago because a) I find them very time-consuming (mainly because I feel obligated to provide links to every book I review–it seems only right) and b) I read a lot of books, and I’d rather read than write book reviews, even short ones. Even blurbs. But I happen to be in the mood today, so here goes.
These are all the books I’ve read so far this year. I’ve decided to divide them by genres, just for the sake of showing off how organized I can be.
Non-fiction comes first because the first book I read this year was a non-fiction book.
Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators by Jay Nordlinger
I have often wondered about the families of individuals who do evil things. I remember the Jonesboro school shooting, which happened when Princess Zurg was just a baby. My first thought was about the parents–not of the victims, but of the shooters, who were only 11 or 12 years old. Specifically, my thought was, How horrifying to learn that your baby is a monster. Whenever I hear about some horrible thing like a school shooting or other mass murder, my heart goes out to the victims’ families, obviously, but I can’t help thinking about the people who have to live with what their son or brother or husband did. These were the people who knew the monsters as something other than monsters. In the case of this book, it’s all about the children, of course. Some of the stories are more interesting than others, but Jay Nordlinger could probably write a new edition of the phone book and I would enjoy reading it, so there’s that. 4/5 stars
What’s Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton
I got this on a whim because it was free. Never read G.K. Chesterton before. This is a series of essays on social problems. He was very anti-feminist, and I disagree with him strongly on that front, but his writing is consistently entertaining, and I felt edified by his perspective. Humorous and thought-provoking (if occasionally full of crap–it was a hundred years ago). 4/5 stars
A Train of Powder by Rebecca West
This book contains the series of long New Yorker articles she did about the Nuremberg Trials, which were interesting–the articles, that is–but I was actually more fascinated by the shorter pieces on other, less notorious trials (all murder cases, as I recall). She tells a story from all different points of view. One piece focuses a lot on a fisherman who discovered the victim’s body, and how the experience affected him. Interesting ruminations on crime and justice. 4/5 stars
Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews
Generally, I’m not big on celebrity memoirs. I’m just not interested in most celebrities’ lives, even the ones I like. (Two exceptions: I couldn’t help picking up Alison Arngrim’s Confessions of a Prairie Bitch–because come on, Nellie Olsen–and Neil Patrick Harris’s Choose Your Own Autobiography–because Choose-Your-Own-Autobiography. Both very good if you don’t absolutely hate memoirs and refuse to read them on principle–although I’m usually in that category myself.) I wouldn’t have read this book–even though I like Julie Andrews very much–except that it was chosen for a book group I’m in. I actually didn’t end up attending that meeting, which makes me wonder if it was truly worth reading this book–but I can’t say it was a bad memoir. If Julie Andrews interests you, it’s a very good memoir. She talks about her life growing up–her mother was a hot mess–and the beginning of her career, and the chapters tend to be on the short side, so it’s easy to pick up and put down. If Julie Andrews doesn’t interest you, there’s nothing here to make you think she’s more interesting than you thought she was. 3/5 stars
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
Another memoir I read for the same book group mentioned above. (That meeting hasn’t taken place yet, but I requested the book from the library early, thinking I might have a lengthy wait, which turned out not to be the case. I know it’s kind of an old book at this point, but this was the digital edition we’re talking about, and I’ve waited months for books older than this one.) Malala’s story is very compelling, and I was fascinated by her parents, particularly her father. Not to give all the attention to the man in the story, but Malala couldn’t have become the remarkable and courageous young woman she is without the influence and support of her father, who was equally courageous and perhaps even more remarkable, considering that he didn’t have a similar role model of his own and that he was raised in an extremely patriarchal society. But Malala is, of course, awesome. She is also ordinary, which is charming. (She likes Justin Bieber, which just goes to show that it takes all kinds to change the world.) That said, the book is sort of uneven in quality–but, you know, she is a teenage girl. I’m 45 years old and still haven’t written a book, and also haven’t gotten shot for trying to learn (or for any reason), so I can probably just go to hell. 3.5/5 stars
That’s all I’ve got time for today. We’ll move on to fiction tomorrow. Or, you know, whenever I get around to it.