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review 2017-11-23 21:48
Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon
Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley - Charlotte Gordon

This is such a fantastic biography that I suspect it will become my gold standard. It’s a dual biography of two well-known female intellectuals (who were also mother and daughter), Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. All I knew of either woman before reading this was her most famous book, but as it turns out they both lived fascinating – and, because they were writers, well-documented – lives. Both traveled internationally (Wollstonecraft even lived in France in the midst of its revolution), wrote extensively, and had children outside of marriage, and all this in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

This isn’t only a factual account; it brings both protagonists to life in alternating chapters (because Wollstonecraft died giving birth to Shelley, the two barely intersect), with distinct, complex and vivid personalities. And Gordon is an excellent storyteller, rendering their lives in a readable style more compelling than many novels; the end of a chapter would often leave me wanting to read just one more. The book is rich in information about the times, providing the context of these women’s lives and the lives of those around them, but despite being a history, the facts never feel inevitable; this is quite an achievement, requiring fresh and vivid storytelling. For the first 100 pages I was concerned that it would be a downer, featuring women oppressed by their gender and culture at every turn, but both women soon grow up and take control of their destinies. In the end, my only concern is that, while the book includes extensive endnotes and a bibliography, the author usually only cites a source when directly quoting someone; I wanted to know where more of the assertions about people’s feelings, in particular, came from.

Overall, this is an excellent book, and it left me curious to read both of these writers and see how my analysis of their works compares to the author’s. This would be a great choice for anyone interested in the lives of historical women; for those who don't typically read biographies, it's a perfect place to start.

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text 2017-11-23 09:55
I might just read this book out of morbid curiosity
Wild: oder der letzte Trip auf Erden - Reinhold Messner

I stumbled upon this book in my local bookstore. My initial reaction was complete and utter bafflement, simply because I can´t wrap my mind around the thought that Reinhold Messner has written a book about the Shackleton Expedition. Especially since there is a famous non-fiction book out there written by Alfred Lansing. If someone would force me to choose between these two books I would always pick the one written by the journalist instead of the one written by a guy who is climbing mountains.

 

However, I did take a peek at the first few pages and I already spotted a pet peeve of mine. There are extensive amounts of dialogue between the characters, so for me it´s more of a fictionalized account of the expedition than an actual work of non-fiction. And I tend to dislike these kind of books. But I might get this book from the library, because I´m curios about this book.

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review 2017-11-22 20:05
Stiff / Mary Roach
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers - Mary Roach

Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers—some willingly, some unwittingly—have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

 

Mary Roach never disappoints me. She is interested in unusual subjects and she approaches them with a slightly off-kilter sense of humour. However she has finally found a subject that I can’t read about while eating--I had to save this book for after-supper reading.

We hate to be brought face-to-face with our mortality and that is exactly what human cadavers do. We have to consider who they were before death and that we will be like them some day. I think even Ms. Roach found herself testing her usual gung-ho boundaries during this research. She talks about the line that she had to ride, to be sufficiently respectful of the dead (who, after all, still have people in the world who care about them) and her usually irreverent self. She retains the humour by making fun of her own reactions.

As a society, we don’t like to think about death, yet we get all emotional about using human bodies (which were donated by those who used to inhabit them) in safety tests of various sorts. I guess it’s not as dignified as we expect the dead to be treated. It also seems to be extremely uncomfortable for those doing the testing.

Weird and wonderful, this is everything you wanted to know about being dead, but were afraid to ask. Mary is rarely afraid to ask. If you enjoy this book, I would recommend her logical following volume, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife.

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review 2017-11-21 17:34
The 13th Gift ★☆☆☆☆
The 13th Gift: A True Story About a Christmas Miracle - Joanne Smith

 

Ugh. Within about 5 minutes of listening to this audio, I could only wail Nooooooooooooooooooooo. I didn’t expect much from this one, so the bar was set pretty low. I expected a bit of light Christmas glurge, a memoir about a family dealing with the loss of a loved one, who found their Christmas spirit when their friends/neighbors/whatever got together to leave anonymous gifts to remind them of The Meaning of Christmas. Sounds like the perfect story to get you into the season, if you go into it without a cynical heart. I was even willing to overlook the amateur quality of the audio narration, because it’s a memoir read by the author. But I simply could not overlook its pushing my biggest button with respect to writing style, the dreaded First-Person-Present-Tense, further committing the egregious sin of mixing past tense inner monologue directly in with the present tense narration of story events. No. Nope. No way.

 

DNF at 5%. Ordinarily I wouldn’t rate a book after less than 20 minutes of audio time, but FPPT always gets a 1 star from me unless the writing and story are so fantastic that I don’t even notice it enough to be annoyed by it.  

 

Audiobook, borrowed from my public library, read by the author.

 

I was attempting to read this for The 16 Tasks of The Festive Season, square 4: Book themes for     Thanksgiving Day:  Books with a theme of coming together to help a community or family in need.  –OR– Books with a turkey or pumpkin on the cover. I don’t have any other books lined up for this task, so I might have to use my other Light Joker for it.

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review 2017-11-21 15:15
I Am Malala ★★★★★
I Am Malala - Malala Yousafzai

I was fascinated, horrified, and inspired by this story of Malala Yousafzai, the girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban for daring to insist upon the rights of girls to an education and to criticize the Taliban for their interpretation of Islamic law with respect to women and violence. It is also the story of her much-loved father, who instilled in her the love of learning, set an example of having the courage to stand up for his principles in the face of ignorance and violence, and supported her whole-heartedly in everything she did. And it is also the story of the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism and the Taliban in Pakistan and her beloved Swat valley, who used the tactics of would-be dictators and religious fanatics everywhere, some of which were all too familiar here in the US.

 

This is the hardcover version, which I’ve had on my bookshelf for a couple of years, waiting on my TBR. I read it for The 16 Tasks of the Festive Season, square 10: Book themes for World Peace Day: Read a book by or about a Nobel Peace Prize winner, or about a protagonist (fictional or nonfictional) who has a reputation as a peacemaker. Malala Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate (in 2014 at age 17) for “her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education”.

 

Previous Updates:

11/14/17 0/327 pg

I'm getting started with I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, which can fit both Square 10: World Peace Day (Malala Yousafzai was a co-recipient for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014) and Square 14 Quaid-e-Azam (she is Pakistani and much of the book is about and takes place in Pakistan) for The 16 Tasks of the Festive Season. I haven't decided yet which square I'll use it for, since I don't have any alternatives for either yet. I don't have any books about any other Nobel Peace Prize winners, and my library has some unappealing options, mostly children's books. 

 

11/14/17 5/327 pg

We went to school six mornings a week, and as I was a fifteen-year-old in Year 9, my classes were spent chanting chemical equations or studying Urdu grammar, writing stories in English with morals like "haste makes waste" or drawing diagrams of blood circulation - most of my classmates wanted to be doctors. It's hard to imagine that anyone would see that as a threat.

 

11/17/17 125/327 pg

The description of how the Taliban took over the region, taking advantage of the people's anger and frustration with the legitimate government and winning their hearts through a combination of setting themselves up as the only source of truth, appealing to prejudices, and providing entertainment and charity - it's a little terrifying.

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