The Other Books I Read in December 2019

Today’s blog post is a follow-up to last Monday’s post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/01/06/three-books-i-read-in-december-2019/. I hope within the six books I read in December, I’ve sparked an interest in you to read at least one of them. Reading is one of the joys of my life, and I enjoy sharing the books I read with my blog readers.


A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum

A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum

Maybe it’s just me, but I found the jumping back and forth from one decade to another confusing.

I hope all Arab families aren’t like this one with the emotional and physical abuse of women being carried on from each generation to the next. The book left me feeling like all Arab men beat their wives and no Arab men want their wives or daughters to be educated or think for themselves. In that respect, it was a very depressing book.

In an interview at the end of the book, Ms. Rum talks about her fear that the book will further the stereotype of Arab men as wife beaters, but she felt compelled to write from her own experience. My brain tells me that all Arab families aren’t like the one she described in her book, but it could easily leave that impression. I don’t want to stereotype Arabs or any other group of people, so I’ll try to take the book at face value as just an example. No ethnic group has a monopoly on domestic abuse.

Aside from the jumping back and forth in time, the writing was excellent and it held my attention once I got into my mind the year in which each chapter took place. The beginning of each chapter pulled me out of the story and I had to stop reading and mentally adjust to the generation being written about. Since nothing changed from one generation to the next, though, I suppose the year and generation didn’t matter.

All that said, though, I do recommend the book.


Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan

Like The Baker’s Secret, I’ve been meaning to read Beneath a Scarlet Sky for more than a year. I was initially drawn to the book by it’s brilliant red cover. I know they say to never judge a book by its cover, but in this case the book did not disappoint.

Based on the lives of real individuals who lived in Italy during World War II, this story gradually drew me in. Once I was “in,” I was “all in.” It is a story of espionage and reminds us that people who are spies aren’t necessarily ones we would readily assume were in that line of work. It is a story of people getting caught up in espionage even against their wills or life plans. It is a story of loyalty among friends and family, and the secrets that had to be kept for the greater good.

This was a book I hated to finish. Fortunately, the author included details at the end of the book that inform us of what happened to each of the characters after the war ended. I really appreciated how the author tied of all the loose ends, since these were real people.

If you’re looking for a World War II-era book to read that delves into the day in and day out lives of regular people, this is the book for you.


When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

Aside from The Guardians and A Woman is No Man, all the books I read in December were ones that had been on my to-be-read list for quite a while. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, received a lot of good publicity when it was published in 2016. I didn’t read it then, but it was one of those book titles that nagged at me.

After bouncing around in several areas of study, Kalanithi is drawn to the field of medicine and neurosurgery in particular. He determines that there is more to medical science than facts. He discovers that relationships matter and that there is an important human aspect to medicine.

When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir written by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with cancer in the prime of his life and career. It is a gripping story of his feelings and physical hurdles as he battled stage IV metastatic lung cancer. The book was published after his death.

Although not an entirely upbeat book, it is a touching story of love, dedication, and the human spirit striving to overcome the worst of circumstances.


Since my last blog post

I read a blog post that offered advice about how to have a successful blog. (Success in blogging seems to be having thousands of readers and followers.) As I’ve read many times before, this post said I need to find my niche and blog only about that. It said I shouldn’t blog about this and that. Since I’m not an expert on any subject, though, for the foreseeable future I’ll continue to write about the books I read, history, and the things I learn about the art and craft of writing.

Thank you for sticking with me in spite of the fact that I don’t have a “successful” blog. If I hit on a topic occasionally that a few people find interesting, I’ll consider that my blog is successful. I’ve never been one to go along with the crowd.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci, and have started listening to The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson. The introduction was intriguing. It will be interesting to see how I like the book. That probably depends upon how graphic the murder and madness are!

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and your time, so I truly appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today.


Let’s continue the conversation

I’m always eager to know what you are reading. Feel free to share the titles of the books you’ve been reading and your thoughts about them.

Janet

Three Books I Read in December 2019

Once again, last month I read a good number of books and decided to split them up between my blog post today and my post next Monday.


Think you can't be fooled by a lair? Think again!
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell

Talking to Strangers:  What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell

Mr. Gladwell’s book says most of us default to thinking strangers are truthful until they prove us wrong, but we are not good at discerning a lie. This can lead to disaster; however, if the majority of people assumed everyone is dishonest, that will have even worse outcomes. It’s an interesting thing to consider.

After reading a pre-publication excerpt from the book, I got on the waitlist for it at the public library. I was intrigued by the idea.

In the book’s introduction, Mr. Gladwell relates the tragic story of Sandra Bland, a young African American woman pulled over by a police officer in Texas in 2015 for not signaling a lane change. Things rapidly escalated and Ms. Bland committed suicide in her jail cell three days later.

The book includes an interesting example from Russian folklore. It seems there is a yurodivy or “Holy Fool” in Russian folklore who is a misfit, an outcast, sometimes seen as mentally-ill, but this person “has access to the truth.” Because he isn’t part of proper society, he tells the truth. He calls people out for lying. He is the modern-day whistleblower.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the child is the “Holy Fool” who blurts out, “Look at the King! He’s not wearing anything at all!” Everyone else sees that the emperor’s magical costume is nothing at all, but the king has been convinced it is a real outfit and everyone but the child is afraid to call the king out – or perhaps many of them have been hoodwinked just like the king.

We need “Holy Fools,” but we can’t all be “Holy Fools.” They see liars everywhere. If everyone operated that way, commerce and interpersonal relationships would cease.

I can’t succinctly summarize this book. Mr. Gladwell gives numerous examples to illustrate how we are fooled every day by strangers. We think we are too smart to be tricked by a liar, but we are all susceptible to it.

He gives many examples where intelligence agencies, diplomats, and governments have been tricked by strangers to an unbelievable extent. Examples include “The Queen of Cuba,” Bernie Madoff, the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State University, an episode of the TV series “Friends,” the Amanda Knox case in Italy, the case of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain being completely fooled by the personality of Adolph Hitler, and several other such large-scale examples. Mr. Gladwell goes into great detail about each of the cases he cites in his book.

The average person’s response to these examples is, “That would never happen to me!” and “How in the world did they get fooled?” Before we jump to such a conclusion, though, we need to keep in mind that we, too, can be fooled by strangers (and by people we think we know well.)

Talking to Strangers:  What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell, is food for thought. It is a very interesting book.


The Guardians, by John Grisham

People convicted of crimes they didn't commit
The Guardians, by John Grisham

This much-anticipated latest legal thriller by John Grisham did not disappoint. The name of the novel comes from a loosely-organized organization that works to get out of prison individuals who were wrongly convicted of a crime. The protagonist is a lawyer who got involved in The Guardians after he became disenchanted with the judicial system.

The overriding theme of innocent people being railroaded by the judicial system and spending decades in prison or given the death penalty should make us all stop and think.

In this book, Mr. Grisham takes us to death row and even to a condemned prisoner’s last meal, when we know the prisoner is not guilty of the crime of which he was convicted. The book follows several such cases.


The Baker’s Secret, by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Baker’s Secret, by Stephen P. Kiernan

This novel had been on my to-be-read list for a long time. I’m glad I finally got around to listening to it. It’s a captivating story of Emma, a young French woman who is ordered to become the German kommandant’s baker during World War II and what she did to fool the kommandant and to help keep her fellow citizens alive during the German occupation of France.

The story of Emma is beautifully told as D-Day approaches. She lives in Normandy and has given up on the Allies ever coming to France’s rescue. I especially enjoyed the way the author describes D-Day and the days that followed through Emma’s eyes.

More so than most any other novel I’ve read, The Baker’s Secret brings to life the everyday lives and struggles faced by the regular people in the countries that were under foreign occupation and attack during World War II. Something this book brings out is the very real hunger experienced by the citizens of France during the war.

Cassandra Campbell does a great job reading the book for the CD edition.


Since my last blog post

The holiday season is nearing an end and it’s time to start a new year. I’m trying to be optimistic about 2020, but the events of the last several days makes that more difficult than it was just a week ago. I am, of course, referring to US-Iranian relations.


Until my next blog post

As I stated in my December 30, 2019 blog post, I will continue to seek a higher level of peace and contentment in 2020. I wish that for you, also.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve just started A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and your time, so I truly appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog.


Let’s continue the conversation

What are you reading? Have you read an especially powerful or enjoyable book recently?

I look forward to your feedback.

Janet