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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-04-09 09:34
Hillbilly Elegy
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis - J.E. Vance

A bluntly honest reflection of the author's life and his family history dealing with being "hillbillies." The poverty and violence is not sugar-coated. He reflects on what is considered normal for their people and the change, generally for the worse, that has happened since his youth with the culture. There are some interesting observations about the middle-class white America attitudes in regards to contemporary policies under Obama, although it does not really touch on the results of the 2016 election as this was published in the middle of campaign season.


I thought it particularly interesting when he recapped what helped him succeed and it wasn't one or two people doing him a good turn, but several individuals closing gaps in his knowledge of social and life skills throughout his life. Although it is not discussed in depth except in regards to the small-town community lifestyle, the general message seems to be that in the absence of formally taught or available skills, the "it takes a village" method is the only way to succeed. It feeds into that line of thought that "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" isn't enough, you need a bit of luck. Or a few well-placed friends that possess the know-how that you need.


Overall good. I hope there will be a follow-up in the future.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-03-27 22:55
Arthur and Sherlock
Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes - Michael Sims

Interestingly informative book about Arthur Conan Doyle's creation of the Sherlock Holmes character, drawing from childhood inspirations (perhaps Dr. Watson was named after someone that had attended a school here or for the name of this other person there) and his adult life - specifically, the practice of doctors at the University of Edinburgh, notably, Dr. Joseph Bell, using physical clues to 'deduce' facts about their patients. A lot of comparisons are rightfully drawn between Dr. Bell and Sherlock Holmes, including the emphasis that while the 'science of deduction' seemed magical, "such assessments required educated scrutiny but not second sight."


The book also goes into the history and increasing popularity of the 'science of deduction' and pokes at the fact that deduction is the wrong word entirely for the line of logic that Sherlock Holmes uses. The history and influence of the crime genre in literature, going from sensationalism to thriller and eventually leading to series featured around singular detective characters, is also examined. A lot of name-dropping happens for books and authors that I had barely or never heard of, or the books that I knew them to be famous for were not the ones that the 19th century reader knew well.


Overall, it was well-researched, but the chronology was a bit skewed and the writing tended to end on a tangent and pick up on a completely different topic's tangent from a chapter ago. I did not read it all in one shot so it did not bother me.

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text 2016-11-03 03:05
Reading progress update: I've read 399 out of 704 pages.
Moby-Dick - Herman Melville

I have not died, nor have I completely abandoned this book. It is oddly entrenching (is that the word? *checks Merriam Webster* No, it is not. But it sounds good, so NaNo mindset rules apply) and when I finally picked it back up this week, I skimmed through several chapters despite crushingly short breaks at work.


I was amazed at the fact that I've been "reading" this book for more than a year. At first I kept misplacing it around my room as I am reading from my physical copy of the book, then after June my entire personal life collapsed into a ~work-work stress-stress caused by politics-politics at work stress about real politics~ mess. I have read a page here, a quick read there, but finished hardly anything in months. My reading challenge bar chart looks terrible.


Still chugging along, still reading. One thing that struck me about the coincidence of reading Moby Dick during National Novel Writing Month is that it is written in exactly the kind of way that emphasizes word count that most 'chievers like me utilize. The amusement of this realization was worthy of actually writing this progress post. :)


Here's to hoping for more reading/blogging time post-elections!

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review 2016-05-13 10:19
Audiobooks to Help You Sleep
To the Far Blue Mountains - Louis L'Amour

Picks up where the previous book left off. Still can't fault L'Amour's writing style, always putting his characters in dangerous situations and coming up with creative endings, it's really no wonder that so many of his books were turned into movies. The problem, however, is that the narrator is so BORING. I thought the first one was okay, but this time around I was literally falling asleep during some parts, because whilst the characters are having battles and life-or-death situations, the narrator's voice doesn't inflect at all, just stays soft and smooth. Nice, but where's the emotion? How can I believe "he shouted, angrily" when you use the same tone of voice one inquires the time with?


+1 for the female characters not being shrinking violets, but that's not really an archetype that fits into the pioneer story model to begin with.


Time skip was strange, but then I realized that it ties into the other books in the series and expands on the family's descendants roughly in order it looks like so worth paying attention to - if you can stay awake.

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review 2016-04-18 07:10
In the Land of Invisible Women
In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom - Qanta A. Ahmed

This took me forever to read. It was just really hard to get into until I forced myself to sit down and blitz through it last night. Part of the problem is the descriptive language seemed so off the wall sometimes, I thought I was reading something by Stephenie Meyer or E.L. James which is not a compliment at all. Not to say that it was bizarrely immature figurative language, just... odd. In hindsight, I suppose that is what happens when the author is a highly educated person such as a doctor as Ahmed is. It's sort of like those common proverbs translated into lawyer-speak worksheets we used to get in school.


After I got over that bit, it was quite interesting. The feelings I had during reading were similar to that which I experienced when reading The Feminine Mystique. As a female reader, many things will make you mad or upset. It's definitely not a book for anyone who is sensitive to triggers, particularly those related to sexual discrimination or assault (this is about the country where all women, regardless of nationality or religion, are required to be veiled in public at all times and it just goes downhill from there) and 9/11.


Qanta Ahmed is an American by choice, born in England from a Pakistani family, and you sure can tell. One thing I realized when traveling is that anyone in any country or culture can be of any personality, good or bad; yet there is something about where and how you grow up that indelibly structures the foundation of your core beliefs of how the world should work and everything you else you experience in life is built around that foundation. Ahmed definitely has the Western value system that women are not meant to be invisible or weak, and the whole book is her trying to reconcile her values with her religion as it is practiced in Saudi Arabia. If the country follows religious law, Islamic law at that, shouldn't everything be fine? But she repeatedly runs into examples of how everyone, even the privileged figures of native Saudi males, live in a mind-bending dichotomy of constant fear of the religious police and reckless abandon with their lives and that of everyone around them.


Her critical eye noted many things, presenting a rather balanced view of life in Saudi Arabia, as much as a female expat can have anyway. There are good and bad things, and mostly she spends the book working out her feelings and thoughts about them. The longest running train of thought is, of course, how women fit into their place in Islamic culture and how the teachings of the faith are corrupted for sociopolitical gain.


The one glaring arrogance from Ahmed, however, is that the whole reason she decided to go to Saudi Arabia in the first place was that she thought she would fit in just fine, having been raised Muslim, without thinking about how cultural influences and national law would mean her notion of female independence as a right would be turned upside down. This also leads into her problem with relating to the people she meets abroad because what is instinctively repulsive to her is natural to them. Likewise, her ingrained tolerance for people of other races and religions is a product of growing up in the UK and America, so she is doubly shocked by the racism and anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism she experiences; I've been there myself, but still, why are people always surprised that the rest of world doesn't think kindly of the Western powers? That, again, is another example of arrogance. These negatives do not detract from the story however.

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