Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation Into War

Are you guys tired of me whining about reading my husband’s books yet? Because I am. Why am I still torturing myself (and you)?

Yeah, I don’t know either.

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In all honesty, Steven Gillon’s account of Pearl Harbor wasn’t bad. It was quite informative. My version of the battle on December 7 comes from that Ben Affleck movie (mmmm Josh Hartnett. Whatever happened to him?). You don’t see much of the President’s side of things, but it makes FDR look like a stoic teddy bear. My teddy bear image of him is furthered by seeing him in Annie, wheeling across the lawn with Eleanor by his side.

Come to find out, he was NOTHING like either of those movie depictions. Turns out he was actually kind of a disloyal jackass.

Anyway, it was interesting to read everything that happened in the moments after the Japanese strike–how hard information was to get, how secretive everything was, how the President and his staff handled it all. The book was a little dry, it definitely wasn’t super exciting or action-filled, but it’s not meant to be. It also wasn’t very long–under 200 pages. This isn’t a full bio of FDR, just an in-depth look at the days surrounding the attack. It’s just long enough to really give you the nitty gritty of that piece of history.

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.

Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen

As the new year starts, we book bloggers have all set new goals. We finished our last book of 2014, and picked up the first book of 2015, hoping for a fresh beginning.

And…over and over again in the last few days I have seen posts all over social media from so many of my fellow bookworms about how disappointing their first new year book has been. Either it’s boring, or it’s too long, or it just isn’t what we expected. But it’s the first book! We have to finish it, right?

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My first book of the year fell into that same disappointing pattern with everyone else. I had high hopes for Jane Hawking’s memoir, Travelling to Infinity. I just watched the Benedict Cumberbatch film on Youtube not too long ago, and I’m so looking forward to watching the new movie with Eddie Redmayne. Stephen Hawking has always seemed somewhat of a mystery to me–our century’s most notable genius, and not only brilliant, but disabled with a disease that is so unknown. This is the exact type of biography/memoir I like to read–one about a person who has achieved so much in spite of so many walls.

The title is very clever, for anyone interested in this book to get to know the man and scientist. Because while I was interested in his wife, and I do realize this was written from her point of view–what I really wanted from this book was to get to know Stephen Hawking. The title is written in just a way to make you think that’s what the book is about.

However…that is not that the book is about.

Sure. Stephen Hawking is there. And you do get to see quite a bit about his deterioration. But his work? No, very little. And in fact, there’s hardly any dialogue with Stephen at all. Most of this book is about Jane’s lack of acknowledgement, and it comes across as extremely bitter. I can understand why she feels this way–she spent her whole life caring for her husband, only to be cast away for a nurse. I don’t mean to make Jane the villain of her own story…it just wasn’t quite the story I expected.

To be honest, I just found most of it to be really boring. I have no interest in hearing about birth stories and child rearing. Her descriptions of her Spanish medieval poetry were neat…when she wasn’t whining about all she couldn’t accomplish. I kept reading about the book only because I truly wanted to know the story of Hawking’s life–Stephen’s, not Jane’s–because he’s a figurehead of our time and it’s one of the things I feel I should know. I wanted to know how his disease progressed, and understand how he became the way he his now.

So, really, this book…meh. I got what I wanted to get out of it. But it’s not one I’m going to recommend with enthusiasm.

 

This does fulfill PopSugar #14:  A nonfiction book.

The Undertaker’s Daughter

Guess I should have waited a bit, and added one more to my year end total! I didn’t think I’d finish this by the end of the day, but I made it!

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The Undertaker’s Daughter will be published January 13and it’s a lovely memoir about a daughter of a Kentucky mortician in the 1960s-70s.

Kate Mayfield had a very close relationship with her father. As one of the youngest in her family, she was the first sibling to be raised strictly in the funeral home, and so she had a natural curiosity about the family business, as well as everything else around her. Her memoir tells the story of the small town she grew up in during the Civil Rights years, just south of the Ohio River.

While I enjoyed this book, whenever I read an ARC I always think about the reception it is going to get upon publishing. This is kind of a rocky time for a memoir from a white southern woman raised in the 60s to come out. While the racial issues are not quite as prominent in the story as in, say, The Help, they are definitely there–desegregation of the schools, interracial relationships, class differences. The movement is more a setting, part of the background of her story, and Kate is fighting against the racist beliefs that surround her. Still, I wonder if the release of the book will be hindered at all, because of the environment we are in currently. I hope not, but this has been a very tough year for a lot of people, unfortunately.

 

Here’s hoping for a better 2015. Happy New Year, everyone!

 

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.

 

Daily Bookish Challenges | Day Nine

If you could share and recommend only ONE book that you’ve read so far in 2014, which one would it be?

 

*HYPERVENTILATES*

I can only recommend ONE?! Do you know how hard that is? I have read SO many amazing books this year. Once I raised the bar and started blogging and reading harder, reading better, my whole reading world just took off.

I have learned so much this year about myself, about other people, about the world around me.

So you know what, let’s start at the beginning. What book changed all that for me?

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin

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It was because of that book that I started this blog. And once I started blogging, I couldn’t stop. I latched on to more and more challenges, I looked for harder and more interesting books to read. I crave more and different knowledge. While I still read for entertainment, I have different goals now. And I absolutely love sharing them with you.

Everyone will get something different out of Rubin’s book, but it completely changed my attitude and life, and I think it will change yours too.

Backpacks and Brastraps

I knew I wouldn’t be able to wait very long before reading the next book in Savannah Grace’s saga. I was really looking forward to experiencing the next leg of her family’s trip, and I wasn’t disappointed!

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Backpacks and Brastraps follows the family as they take a short, and slightly scary, stint up into Russia, through a few Central European countries and into Western China, Tibet, before finally arriving in Nepal in time for trekking season.

Savannah’s writing is really taking off in this second book. I could tell that she’s becoming more and more comfortable in her own skin as she’s out in the world, and she’s discovering more about herself. She’s not nearly as much the whiny teenager as she was in I Grew My Boobs in China, although there still is a bit of that, she is settling down and opening her eyes. I was pretty amused when a friend from home joins them for the trek in Nepal and Savannah almost rolls her eyes at her inexperience.

Overall, though, I love these stories and I can’t wait for the third book, which, sigh, isn’t due out until August 2016! I’ll have to mark my calendar for that one.

The Suicide Index

With a title like The Suicide Index, you know this isn’t going to be an easy review…

This isn’t a book I can just say, “Oh, I really liked this!” Because I didn’t really like reading it…although it was a very good, very well written book. It was a hard book to read, a very emotional book to read.

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First things first, this is nonfiction. Joan Wickersham is writing about the death of her father. More specifically, Joan Wickersham is writing about the suicide of her father. She calls herself a biographer many times during her story, but if anything, it’s more of a memoir about her own journey, than an actual biography of her father. The structure of The Suicide Index is unique–it is an actual index, with the chapter titles in alphabetical order. They all start with the word “suicide,” but then range on varying topics associated with the main.

It’s hard to say who the true audience of this book is. It is written out of the grief, anger, and healing of a surviving family member, so it is a very harsh reality of what it feels like to be left alive after a loved one kills themselves. It could be a rough read for those suffering from depression, but it could also be a big wake up call, for those who need one.

Joan says this:

“Did he know what it would do to us–my mother, my sister, and me?

If so, then he did something unforgiveable.

If not, then I wish he had known. But only if he really did have a choice, and only if knowing would have stopped him.”

 

I think this is a very important memoir. But tread carefully, if you do read it. There is a lot of pain here, so be prepared to open some wounds. Keep a journal nearby, or a friend if you need one.

And, if you do need real help, ask for it. I’ve posted helplines on the blog before, they can be found HERE.

 

(I’m not doing a separate Teaser Tuesday post today. Any quote I could have taken from this book would have been too raw without the context of the review.)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

William Kamkwamba is one of those special people who, through lack of everything except sheer desperation and will, created something from the ground up that put his little village on the map.

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Malawi was torn apart by famine and disease when William was growing up. He experienced so much tragedy. It was hard to sit here, healthy, fed, and happy, while reading this book. I was continually frustrated, because I so wanted him to succeed, and life just keeps.beating.him.down.over.and.over.

William is SO smart. Could you imagine, not being able to go to school, and just picking up a couple of random books out of the library and figuring out the concept of electricity on your own without ever really seeing anything like it? I sure couldn’t. What he did was so awesome! He was in the middle of nowhere, and became an engineer. Here in the States, we have to go to Purdue to figure that stuff out!

This book is going to make you uncomfortable, upset, angry. You’ll probably cry. But, you know it has a good ending, because it’s nonfiction–and they wouldn’t give us a book about some kid who failed at building a windmill, right? Right.

Jokes aside, William’s story is pretty damn remarkable, and worth the read.

I Grew My Boobs in China

Travelling has always been a great dream of mine, especially international travel. America is wonderful and vast and varying, but aside from a jump across Niagara, I’ve never been out of it.

There’s so much world to see, and the more travel memoirs I read, the more I long to go.

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When I read I Grew My Boobs in China, I was hit with two impressions:

1. Holy crap, I want to smack this super annoying teenager right in the face. Seriously, her whining drove me crazy the entire time. One moment she’d come up with some really deep, well thought out things about how much this trip was changing her…and then boom, she’d start back in on how terrible everything was and how she missed the internet. But…I’m an adult reading a book written by a girl going through puberty in a foreign country with a giant pack strapped to her back. I’d probably whine too if it were me.

2. If Elizabeth Gilbert had a daughter…Savannah Grace would be her. The way she talked about her mom’s journey through divorce–giving up her life, taking off on this epic journey across Asia, that’s what it reminded me of.

I finished this in one day, and thankfully it was a lazy, “do nothing but laundry and read” kind of day, because I couldn’t put this down. I Grew My Boobs in China is only the first part of a 3 part series (at least so far):  Sihpromatum. The first two are on Kindle Unlimited, and you should definitely check them out. I am looking forward to the second book, to see what happened to the family in Russia!