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Search tags: nonfiction-ish
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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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review 2017-11-20 08:13
Louise Thompson Patterson: A Life of Struggle for Justice
Louise Thompson Patterson: A Life of Struggle for Justice - Keith Gilyard
"Organizing is a fine art. I have worked at it all of my adult life."

Before picking up this book, I had never heard of Louise Thompson Patterson. Which is a shame, because she was an incredibly fascinating woman who influenced the movers and shakers of the Harlem Renaissance, the American Communist party, and the Civil Rights movement. Louise's story is an unlikely and amazing one, from her eclectic, peripatetic childhood, her tempestuous first marriage, to her struggles with her ability to "pass," her deep friendship with Langston Hughes and her bitter rivalry with Zora Neale Hurston, her leadership that brought together a collaboration with a Jewish organisation to fight for universal rights, her travels behind the Iron Curtain, and her lifelong loyalty to the Communist Party. The book is incredibly thorough and each page, often festooned with casual mentions of dozens of names, reads a bit like a Who's Who of the Harlem Renaissance-- which, unfortunately, would be more entertaining if I actually knew who was who. 

The book deftly describes Patterson's life, not only her virtues, but also uncompromisingly explores her flaws. Yet despite learning so much about her life, I am not sure I ever really understood what motivated her, and I absolutely failed to grasp her obstinate faith in the Soviet Union, even to the point of repeatedly switching sides as the Communist policy on the Nazis changed again and again. Perhaps most impressive of all was her ability to survive on a career in political organizing. Patterson was a fascinating complex woman who influenced generation upon generation of civil rights organizers. If you're curious about her life-- and are more well-versed in the history of the time than I am-- this book is well worth a read.

~~I received an advanced reader copy of this book through Netgalley from the publisher, Duke University Press, in exchange for my honest review.~~ 

Cross-posted on Goodreads.

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review 2017-11-16 17:26
Socrates in the City by Eric Metaxas
Socrates in the City: Conversations on "Life, God, and Other Small Topics" - Eric Metaxas

A series of talks on 'life, God, and other small topics,' this book is the thinking person's alternative to pop psychology and prosperity gospel (that will seem much more clever and applicable if you listen to the book).

 

Based upon other reviews, I can see that listening to the audio version of this book is much more enjoyable than reading the paperback. That makes sense, since the audiobook is a recording of the Socrates in the City events with different lecturers taking on a variety of topics before opening up the session to Q&A.

 

Listening to this made me think and added several new books to my TBR. Definitely worth a listen.

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