Oscar Wilde

June is Pride Month, and so to celebrate, I added some specific books to my TBR. The Empty Family had several gay narrators. I’m listening to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe on audiobook on my walks, so I’ll review that one when I am finished. And Under the Lights was a bit of a surprise that I’m not revealing, but that one turned out perfect for the theme too!

I wish there were more books out there with LGBT characters, and my library has been posting a lot of recommendations, many of which I have added to my TBR. If you have some good ones, shoot them my way!

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The book I was most excited to read for Pride was about one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde. Written as part of a series called Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians, Jeff Nunokawa gives us a short but informative piece on Wilde’s struggle to be a prominent gentleman in 19th century England, while living his life the way he needed to.

I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed. Obviously, you can’t fit that much life into 100 pages. The information was there, it just wasn’t that grandeur you expect when reading about Oscar Wilde. It was very “This happened on this date.”

And ok, I can live with that. What really got to me though was that here we have a book about a gay man in the 19th century, at the height of Victorian censorship. His very name stood for persecution.

And then in the book written ABOUT this man…this happens:

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Now, I am sure it was a publishing error, but still. There was about 10 pages missing, randomly in the middle of the book. And in a 100 page book, that’s a lot of information.

Just kind of makes you wonder, huh? It IS a library copy.

Anyway. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I skipped to the end, past the snow white pages, and read about the trial and sad end to this brilliant man’s career.

Time to read something a little less sad.

What are you reading for Pride? I hope all my LGBT friends are having a fantastic month!

 

HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hilary Clinton

When you read as much as I do, you start to know a little bit about a lot of things. I might know and read more about some subjects than others, but I have a pretty wide range of random knowledge.

However, I have always stayed blissfully uneducated when it comes to politics. For 25, 26 years, I could give less than two shits about public policy or the elections or any of that stuff. It all seemed like absolute crap to me–no one was every happy with any decisions that were made, we were all just fighting each other anyway, so what was the point? I absolutely HATE salesmen, and that’s really all politics is.

But, maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, I don’t know. I married a man who is obsessed with Fox News (I know…right? He had to have a flaw or two, I guess), so I’m always hearing about current issues, and not always from a slant I agree with. Ok. It’s almost NEVER from a slant I agree with. It’s also impossible to be on Tumblr for 5 seconds without seeing some kind of social activist rant of the day.

And so my eyes are opening and I’m learning. More accurately, I am sucking information in like water through a straw after running a marathon in a desert. I haven’t figured out where I stand exactly on all the issues, but I definitely care what is going on now. Welcome to Adulthood.

Anyway. I was offered a free copy of HRC to read and review, and since Hilary had just announced her candidacy for president, it was great timing. People are so polarized on Secretary Clinton, and I wanted to read more about her work.

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I wasn’t sure going into this that I would understand everything the book discussed. However, the authors are extremely detailed, and it was really interesting to see the nitty gritty goings on. Richard got me hooked on West Wing shortly after we started dating, and maybe that’s why reading HRC felt so familiar. Even though I wasn’t paying super close attention to the current events during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, I do remember some of what the book refers to, and now I understand much more of what happened–the details, the faces, and the controversies.

This book makes me wish I had one for every single candidate in every election from now on. This is exactly what I need–a 400 page account detailing each person’s work in the field, and an epilogue at the end with their platform. The book was serious, but human, and while yes, it has a political bias, I didn’t feel like it was trying to shove Hilary down my throat like “PICK ME PICK ME.” It showed her flaws as well as her strengths. It wasn’t a used car salesman book. I’m sure not everyone researches presidential candidates by reading that much…but sure was helpful to me!

The next election is going to be an interesting one. It’s the first one I am really paying attention to. I have a lot more research to do, but at least now I know what to look for.

 

Blogging for Books provided a copy of this book for an unbiased review.

Washington

Every once in awhile, I have a book that I know is going to be a beast to read. It is long, it is dull. It is more like a text book than entertainment.

But…I make myself read those kinds of books every now and then. I feel they are important. And I don’t mean that to sound pretentious. They are important for me. I could care less if you read them. But my brain craves expansion–so even while I yawn and scan and swear that I’m going to quit…I force myself to read one more chapter, until I reach the end.

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Washington was such a book for me. A massive biography on our first president. 900+ pages kind of massive. It was a lot of Washington to take in. I was sure ready to be done by the end.

Ok. For the sake of review, I should stop and say this:  Chernow clearly did a great deal of research. And for fans of political/historical figure bios–they are probably going to find this fascinating. It would take my husband a year (or more) to read this ,but he would like it.

There’s a reason I stuck with it for all 900 pages. The information was interesting. Washington is kind of a ghost figure in our history–he’s there, and we know he’s important, but we don’t learn that much about him. Not like we do Lincoln or FDR or JFK.

Chernow covers everything in his book–childhood, his courting days, the entire scope of Washington’s military career, and of course–the founding of country and his resulting presidency. There’s a lot to read and learn about here, and while yes, it was long, I’m better for it.

I did find it dull and dragging, but I think that is more because I prefer books with plots than because the actual writing was bad. There was just so much information to take in. I’m also taking into consideration that I was reading this during a pretty crappy family moment, and I was trying to get it done before I had to go home to Indiana. I will say that it was a great book to absorb while not being able to devote myself entirely to a storyline, so there’s that.

If you enjoy this sort of book, and/or are interested in our country’s beginnings, I would say pick this one up. It definitely has merit.

Killing Kennedy

Certain moments define a generation. They are the points in our history that we talk about forever, the stories we put in our books, the memories we tell our grandchildren.

For my generation, that moment was 9/11. I will never forget sitting in a testing room with 20 of my classmates, finishing early and hearing the buzz of the nervous teachers, then watching in horror when they turned on the TV.

Before that poignant day, I heard so many adults say, “I’ll never remember where I was the day Kennedy was shot.” And I always thought that was such a weird comment, but now I get it. Those memories really do live forever.

Until recently, the 1960s seemed so long ago. Camelot seemed so old-fashioned and unrealistic, and I was never really interested in that time period. It bored me to death, to be honest. But now, with civil rights issues suddenly exploding, the 1960s are no longer boring…they are happening all over again.

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My husband has been reading…or at least buying…Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Series, and so far has found them very interesting. I don’t lean quite so Right, so I was avoiding these, afraid that they would be a little too political for me. However, Killing Kennedy really didn’t have any political slant at all, for being a book about a president. Most of the base details I already knew, but it was interesting to ready about the finer points of what happened leading up to the days of the assassination and what happened after. The book was obviously well researched and well written.

My only real criticism is that the authors (not sure who did most of the writing) use the world “belie” waaaaaay too much. Seriously, it’s a weird word and they use it over and over and over again. I know. I’m nitpicking. But it stuck out at me.

If you like histories, this is a good one. It reminded me of the Pearl Harbor history that I read of FDR not too long ago. It wasn’t a full biography of JFK, just a moment in time. I won’t be so hesitant to read the other three O’Reilly books in the series now.

 

Counting this for PopSugar #43. It takes place in Dallas, which is not my hometown but it’s where I live now. My home town is a tiny town of 10,000 people.  #43. A book that takes place in your hometown.

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk

I’ve read a couple of books about long wilderness hikes–Wild, about the Pacific Crest Trail, and Bill Bryson’s account of his trek on the Appalachian Trail, and every one makes me more and more intrigued. I love the woods, and camping…but I don’t know if I have what it takes to do that big of a hike. I sure do like to read about it though!

Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk was no exception. In fact, it may be the best one so far. A grandma loving to walk in nature is not foreign to me–my own grandma would take us for walks on the River Greenway all the time when I was young…but always before it got “much too hot,” and always with a picnic basket full of ham and butter sandwiches on white bread. She still gets out on a regular basis, even well into her 80s. (She’d probably give me a very special look, if she knew I was telling you how old she was. Sorry Grandma.)

As fit and fiesty as she is, I cannot imagine her walking from Georgia to Maine, and certainly not alone! But that’s just what Emma Gatewood did, and in the 50s! She just set off, without hardly telling anyone where she was going, in Keds, with a 30 lb sack. Well, ok then.

Seriously, if this book doesn’t make you want to get off your hiney and do…anything…I don’t know what will. I sure do want to go camping now! But with a tent. And a sleeping bag. Let’s not go too crazy.

 

Fulfills Popsugar #19:  A book based on a true story

King Leopold’s Ghost

I feel a bit like I am waking up, being born. I understand, now, those grumpy Victorian men in movies who think women should not be allowed to be educated–“It isn’t right! They’ll get ideas!”

Yes…I am getting ideas. I am learning. The world is getting smaller. The more I know, the more I want to know. I have always read, but not like this. I am no longer reading only for entertainment…I am seeing things that I haven’t seen before, understood before, and maybe it’s because I didn’t want to. I don’t know. But my eyes are starting to open. And I’m not yet completely sure how I feel about it. I just know I can’t go back.

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I just finished reading a book about genocide. And not just any genocide–because I’ve read about the Holocaust, which, don’t get me wrong…it’s one of the most awful historical topics a person can read about–but one reads and hears about that period of history from the moment we enter school. But this particular horror was one that I had never even heard of. Sure, I knew that there was colonialism in Africa, that at one time there was a fight to explore such a vast, unknown continent. And somewhere in the back of my somewhat intelligent brain, I knew it probably wasn’t the kindest or PC event in human history.

But, when I think of whites “discovering” Africa, the period of history I think about is the Slave Trade. So, when I first picked up Adam Hochschild’s book, that’s what I thought he was writing about. Even the subtitle of King Leopold’s Ghost, kind of sounds like it might be related–“A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa.” To be completely honest, I thought it was going to be about the breakdown and halting of the slave market. I wanted to see the end of it.

I was so, so wrong.

King Leopold turned out to be Leopold II, King of Belgium, who, because he thought his country too small to be impressive, decided he needed a gigantic colony on this brand new continent that everyone was talking about. So he teamed up with the world’s best explorers, and convinced everyone he was going to be a humanitarian, and stop that slave trade we talked about earlier. (So, at first, I was still convinced this was going to be a really great, positive book.) Again…so, so, so wrong.

Instead, they discovered ivory and rubber, which of course (in their mind) required native Africans to poach and harvest and porter. And if those natives did not cooperate, they were whipped with brutal instruments or just killed openly.

The longer I read this book, the angrier I got. Mostly because of how cruel everything was–I have notes upon notes upon notes in my journal, because it was the only way I could process what I was reading. To say this book made me cry doesn’t do it justice. It made me sick to my stomach. It also made me angry because aside from “Oh yeah, there was some colonialism in Africa in the late 1800s,” I have never heard of ANY of this happening.

There’s this term being thrown around a lot right now–“White Privilege”–which, I’ll admit, it makes me cringe. Not because I think I’m not privileged…I am. I think it just stings because I want to think myself as one of the good guys, someone who wants to love everyone and help where I can help.

But goddammit. White Privilege is all this book is about. That term played over and over in my head the entire time I was reading this. White Privilege took over the Congo, and tore it apart.

There were some great people trying to fight against colonialism in this horror story, but the bad far outweighed the good, unfortunately. I have a lot of emotions, questions, and I don’t know what else to think on. This is not a book that you just move on from. For my sanity, I’m going to read something…lighter…and then I’m going to read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which is his fictionalized account of all this. And then, I don’t know what’s next. I am not done. It may not be the same subject, the same period of history, but I’m not done. I refuse to be numb.

41: A Portrait of My Father

Finally, a “husband book” that I actually enjoyed! While I am only recently educating myself on current events and politics, R is EXTREMELY political. Oh man. If you bring up that subject at the dinner table, you better be ready for a debate. While he is not super conservative in a lot of things, he is very much a Republican…and so the more liberal I find myself…the more we disagree.

However, no matter what side of the coin I find myself, I will always find the lives of our presidents interesting. They have an incredibly difficult job, and the media twists and scandalizes them so much during their campaigns. At some point, it’s nice to just look back and see what created those leaders we see on our TVs every night.

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George HW Bush was elected when I was 3, so I barely remember him being president. I mostly remember him running against Clinton in the 90s. However, I’ve grown up with him being in the background my entire life, through his charity and political events, especially once George W came into the seat.

41 confirmed what I always imagined him to be:  a kind, grandfatherly figure, much like my own grandpa (they even had similar glasses). George W, of course, lists his father’s political achievements, but really the book isn’t overly focused on policy. It wasn’t hard for me to follow what was going on. There was quite a bit of name dropping, but that is something I expected. Mostly, it’s just a son being proud of his dad, so much so that he followed in his footsteps.

The writing is typical George W, so don’t expect anything super fancy here. For me, that was a good thing, because it meant I was able to understand it! I’ve read political bios where I didn’t make it past the first chapter. I think most Republicans (and maybe some Democrats too) are going to appreciate this book. I know my husband will, once he gets around to reading it. 😉 Happy Birthday, honey.

 

My Days with Princess Grace of Monaco

Grace Kelly, as a child born in the late 80s, is just a vague celebrity. Everyone knows who she is–that gorgeous blonde actress who really did meet and marry her Prince Charming. I know she was tragically killed before her time. Really though…that’s about it.

My Days with Princess Grace of Monaco is a very sweet and sentimental description of the “Happily Ever After” days of Princess Grace’s life. In other words, what came after the wedding. Joan Dale’s memoir is filled with letters and tales of parties, clothes, and child-rearing. There are no scandals here, although there is some heartbreak. Dale desperately wants you to know the good woman Grace Kelly was, the hidden side, that the cameras did not see.

One thing that struck me about this book is the modesty that Joan Dale had. In every letter back to her parents, even after years of friendship and familiarity, she just keeps saying, “Well, they sure must like us if they keep having us around!” This is so different from what would be expected now. She was always grateful for the royal attention and friendship, and never took it for granted.

I did get a little bored halfway through…but I am not a mother, so the childrearing phase of life did nothing for me. Also, the organization of the book frustrated me some. Joan and Martin’s letters were published as a whole, but “G&R’s” letters were just bits and pieces thrown in a paragraph. I would think it would be the other way around–that Joan would have actually had their letters kept? Maybe she wasn’t allowed to publish them. It just bothered my organizational sense. If you’re going to print a whole letter, don’t skimp on the reply!

It was interesting to read about Princess Grace’s life from a dear friend of hers. I would have liked to read more about the romance…but Joan had not known her then. Maybe I’ll have to look that up!

 

Disclaimer:  I received this ARC from NetGalley in return for review.

Tolkien

I told my husband I was going to do nothing but read this weekend, and since I’ve finished 3 books in 2 days…I think I’m doing pretty well!

When I first started getting into fantasy, I tried to watch The Lord of the Rings movies, and every time I did, I would get as far as the cornfield scene, and fall asleep, or get bored, and inevitably give up. Over and over someone would say “Haley, you would LOVE this, watch it!” But I just couldn’t get into them. And the idea of reading three volumes of that was just…ugh….no thanks.

But I kept seeing the excitement and obsession everyone had for Tolkien’s trilogy, and I just didn’t understand the fascination. What was I missing? And so, when I unpacked R’s book collection at our first apartment, and saw that he had not just LOTR, but also The Hobbit, I set out to conquer them. I was sure I’d hate it, but I had to know.

And then I couldn’t stop. I think it took me about a week to finish the four. And we watched the movies, of course. We haven’t gotten our hands on The Hobbit ones, and I’m dying to–we must, before December. (MARTIN FREEMAN AHHH WHY HAVE I NOT SEEN THESE YET).

And then I started learning more about where the myths came from, and reading online more about Tolkien. What a genius! I have a bunch of biographies tagged to read about him that I haven’t picked up yet, but the other day NetGalley sent me an ARC offer from Devin Brown, so of course I jumped on it.

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At first, Tolkien is a little choppy. Or maybe I should say, “listy.” Here’s an event or a place, and here’s the connection Tolkien used for his books. And Brown does that over and over for the first few chapters. But then, the bio sort of finds the flow once he gets to school and it gets better after that.

The subtitle of the book is “How an Obscure Oxford Professor Wrote the Hobbit and Became the Most Beloved Author of the Century.” That really tells you what you are going to get here. There’s not a lot about his nature walks or how he came up with his maps here–which is a little of what I was hoping for, since I’ve read about some of that online. This is very much about his days at school and his professorship, and his development into languages. There is a bit into his relationship with CS Lewis and his marriage, but none of this book is supremely personal or detailed. It’s also not a very long book–I read it in about 3 hours, starting last night and finishing this morning.

Tolkien is a very good introduction to the author. I very much want to know more now about the pieces of his life that were described here, and I will be reading more about this incredibly intelligent man.

 

Disclaimer:  I was given an ecopy of this book for review by NetGalley.

The Innocent Man

My husband has about a bazillion John Grisham books, so they make their way into my TBR list every now and then. I had expected fiction when The Innocent Man appeared next on the list, but nope. This was nonfiction.

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And the fact that this is a true story just royally pisses me off.

This is a story about two men, actually, who were tried AND CONVICTED, for a murder they did not commit. One was sentenced to life in prison, and the other, a man who was severely mentally ill, sentenced to the death penalty.

That’s horrible in itself, but that’s not even what made me so angry. Just the horrendous treatment of Ron, the abuse, the neglect. All of it. You have this bipolar, schizophrenic man in need of daily monitoring and he is repeatedly left to his own devices and constantly broken down and ridiculed. Grisham points out in almost every chapter where Ron will stop taking his medicine because he’s depressed or doesn’t understand what the medicine does (which is a symptom of his disease). And then he was in prison, the absolute abuse from the guards who knew how to push his buttons and make him collapse into a psychotic mess. Ugh. I just wanted to scream for someone to help him.

As far as writing style goes, I wasn’t a big fan. This was very reportish, not so much a story. There wasn’t much dialogue or live action, it was all very journalistic. Obviously I had very strong opinions about what I was reading, but it was a very boring read really. Also, Grisham kept going off on tangents about other cases and people out of nowhere. Unless you have a strong law background, those aren’t going to make a lot of sense.

This is probably a 2 star book for me. I have strong feelings about Ron for a few different reasons, but I didn’t really enjoy the book itself at all.