This month was even bumpier than I expected (both in politics and books).

The political clusterfucks that occurred this month are literally too numerous to summarize, especially on a blog that is not specifically devoted to politics.

Additionally, I learned a hard lesson about giving myself two long (500+ pages apiece) and intellectually taxing non-fiction books to read. Future book lists will reflect that.

This month’s books were across a variety of genres (history, science fiction, business) and mediums, including library books, e-books, and audio books.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

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Kindred was my first book by Octavia Butler but it definitely won’t be my last. I loved this book.

The depiction of slavery was searing, incredibly painful to read. The story also covers the continued persistence of racism (sometimes overt, sometimes disguised) in contemporary life. Kindred is the story of Dana, an African-American woman in the 1970s who is unwillingly drawn back in time to antebellum Maryland, where she meets her ancestors, Rufus, a white slaveholder, and Alice, a free black woman.

The writing was beautiful. This is the type of sci-fi I really enjoy, in which the premise (in this case time travel) is not over-explained. I always appreciate the devotion to continuity, but as a reader I like ambiguity and uncertainty. If I talk about the book with someone else who enjoyed it, these ambiguities often make for great conversation.

In a 2017 world that feels more and more like we’re being unwillingly dragged back in time, Kindred is an alarming and important read by an astonishing writer– Butler was the first science fiction writer to become a MacArthur Fellow, also known as receiving the “genius grant”).

In Butler’s own words: “I began to write about power because I had so little.”

Which Octavia Butler book should I read next? Let me know in the comments.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

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This book was tough. When I picked this up, the librarian actually said “I had a hard time getting through this one,” a red flag that I promptly ignored.

The subject matter, the confluence of The Chicago World’s Fair and the story of serial killer H.H. Holmes, was perfect for my reading tastes.

But I got lost in the weeds with some of the very detailed chapters on the planning and assembly of the Fair. There are long passages (think Tolkien-appendix levels of details) on building materials and landscape architecture.

I’m confident that if I had sat and read the book in long, uninterrupted stretches, those passages would have been more manageable, but I was reading in fits and starts (usually during my lunch at work).

The forays into Holmes’ mind were fascinating, with all the depth of fiction but extrapolated from Larson’s careful research.

I would still recommend this book, but only if you have uninterrupted time to devote to it (perhaps on a long flight).

Devil in the White City took me two weeks. If I hadn’t read Kindred early, I could have been in trouble meeting my goals.

Did anyone else struggle with this book? Let me know in the comments.

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson

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Since I struggled so much with Devil in the White City, I wasn’t left with much time to read Blood in the Water. I decided to systematize it, reading 50 pages during lunch each day.

This turned out to be a great idea in more ways than one: reading with specific page goals helped me finish on time and the strict limit kept me from overdosing on a truly heartbreaking topic. If you’re not already angry about racial injustice and the prison-industrial complex, this book will get you angry AF. The prisoners and hostages in Attica were slaughtered by the twin forces racist violence and bureaucratic ineptitude.

If you’re looking for more information on mass incarceration in The United States, I highly recommend viewing Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th, on Netflix.

What are some other books/documentaries about mass incarceration and prison reform that you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments.

The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth: Entrepreneurship for Weirdos, Misfits, and World Dominators by Chris Brogan

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I accidentally bought this as a digital book (thinking it was an audiobook) so I read the entire book on my phone. This was a mixed bag as mediums go– I am definitely developing eyestrain from looking at screens too much but it was pretty convenient to be able to read on my phone instead of futzing around on social media and freaking out about the fate of the world at large.

As I’ve mentioned, my dream is to eventually own a bookstore, so I’m reading books on the topic of business ownership, independent bookstores, and entrepreneurship. As books in this genre go, I liked Brogan’s unique approach. It was weirdo-focused, without being trite or condescending. I got a lot of insight from the chapter that distinguished willpower from discipline (appropriate for this challenge):

“Willpower is a muscle. If it were on your arm it would be one of those teeny tiny muscles hiding underneath the ones you want to show off at the beach. It’s a supporting cast member, but it tires easily. You’re looking for the big guns here: discipline.”

What non-fiction business/entrepreneurship books should I check out next?

Despite the mad scramble to finish these books, I also managed to read one more:

I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam

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I was able to finish this in February because I listened to it at work and during my commute. I really like Laura Vanderkam’s other work (168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think and What Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast) and I Know How She Does It may be my new favorite. I consume her work exclusively in audio format, because I can absorb it, take notes if necessary, and mulit-task (healthily).

Like most of Vanderkam’s work, it focuses on time management, particularly the time management strategies of successful women.

I Know How She Does It goes beyond tips, delving into research and surveys that she has conducted on time management. She shares self-reported time diaries as well as her own tips, which include knowing when to stop giving a shit about putting the laundry away.

The book’s research subjects and intended audience are women who have children and earn over $100,000 per year. I do not fit into either one of those categories, but as Wayne Gretzky says, “You don’t skate to where the puck is; you skate to where the puck is going to be.”

 

TWs for Kindred: rape, slavery, racism, violence

TWs for Devil in the White City: rape, murder, violence, violence towards children and animals

TWs for Blood in the Water: extremely graphic descriptions of violence, racism (including racist language), police violence, guns

No TWs for The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth or I Know How She Does It

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2 thoughts on “The 52 Books Project: February Reviews

  1. If you loved Kindred and The Underground Railroad, you need to read Homegoing by Yaa Guasi (if you haven’t yet). It was such a beautiful novel. Good luck with your project, Nica! An admirable undertaking. I’m trying to read at least 20 books while I’m in Ethiopia. I’ll definitely take notes on books to read from your reviews 🙂

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