What I’m Reading: June 2016

One thing I hoped for after graduation has come true: I have a lot more time to read.  I finally have a full-time job, so my days are spoken for, but I no longer have to make room in my evenings for homework.  So books have made it back into my life on the regular, thank goodness!

Resultado de imagen para my not so perfect life coverIt’s not summer for me without a Sophie Kinsella book, and this is the newest one, published in February of this year.  It follows the classic Kinsella style of zany characters and hilariously ridiculous situations, but it felt a bit more serious than her earlier books, especially the Shopaholic series.  In this, Katie Brenner is a recent college grad (like myself) who is trying to break into the world of branding.  She lands a job at a prestigious firm, but is a bit intimidated by her boss, whose social media accounts make it look like her life could not be more perfect.  Katie is simultaneously in awe and repulsed, but when she gets fired she has a whole host of new problems to deal with.

I enjoyed this because it’s the first Kinsella protagonist I’ve read who was just starting out in life.  I identified with Katie, and I admit felt a bit jealous that she is working in her field so soon after graduation.  But Katie is definitely not perfect either, and that made her so easy to root for.  I saw myself and my friends in her, and I wanted her to succeed.  She learns a lot of hard, adult-y lessons throughout the book, but it still has the nice, satisfying ending that is characteristic to Kinsella books.

Resultado de imagen para universal harvester coverUniversal Harvester is one I wish I could have read in school, or even in a book club, because it begs to be re-read and pondered and analyzed.  Set in the late 90s, it follows Jeremy, who works at a video rental store.  Jeremy, who has lived alone with his father since his mother died in a car accident, is settled into his routine, and likes it that way.  But he can’t help but be curious when several tapes get returned with extra scenes edited in, scenes that seem to have been shot not far from his house.

When I started this, it felt like a creepy thriller.  The mystery surrounding the tapes seemed dark.  Once I realized that — spoiler alert — the narrator is not the author, but another, unknown character, it got even creepier.  But as I got even farther into the book, the creepiness melted away, and it just felt horribly sad.

I know I’m being vague about this book, but it’s the kind that demands to be read to be understood.  You can go read the description on Amazon or Goodreads if you want more info.  What I will say is that Darnielle’s writing style is incredible.  Reading a novel with an unreliable narrator is one of my favorite things in the world, and he executed that perfectly.  This is going to be one I beg other people to read so we can talk about it.

Resultado de imagen para yo julia alvarez coverYo! is by the same author who wrote How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, which I loved.  This I have not loved nearly as much.  But part of it is because at first I didn’t realized that this book continues the story Yolanda, one of the Garcia girls, throughout her lifetime.  It’s an eventful one, too — she angers her entire family by writing about them, gets kicked out of college, and marries — three times.  If I had realized that this Yo was the same as the Garcia Girls Yo at first, maybe I would’ve liked it better.

But another reason I haven’t loved this is because I am reading it in Spanish.  While I have no trouble reading and comprehending words, comprehending voice is a different story.  In this book, each chapter has a different narrator.  Sometimes they are named, and sometimes they aren’t.  I also didn’t realize that at first, because it does take a little more effort for me to understand Spanish novels.  I found that it helps immensely if I read out loud, but I can’t read the entire thing aloud to myself.  I did finish the book, but I think I would have enjoyed it much more in English.

That said, it’s still an incredible work.  (Also, some of my issues may stem from the translation, since it was written in English originally.)  But even with my somewhat foggy understanding of the book, Alvarez’s unique writing style comes through.  Her characterization and place settings are both beautiful in their own way, and the fact that she wrote every single chapter in a different voice speaks to her talent.  Even though I haven’t enjoyed this nearly as much as How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, I’d still recommend it, and I may end up reading it again in English in the future.

 

What I’m Reading: April 2017

Two weeks until graduation and I somehow still have had time to (mostly) devour two books, both of which I got from the library when I knew I shouldn’t have.  But the high quality of these two books makes up for any time I maybe should have spent doing something else.

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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents follows four sisters from the Dominican Republic who are forced to move to New York with their families in 1960 due to political strife.  Told from the perspective of all four girls, in 15 separate but intertwined stories, the story is written in backwards chronological order.  Secrets alluded to in the first few stories are slowly revealed as you read through the chapters, as the girls get younger.  With every chapter, you understand a little more.

It took me a chapter or two to really get into this book, because the first chapter has so many inside jokes and allusions you just don’t know about yet.  But the writing is incredible.  Alvarez does an amazing job of making the characters realistic as they get younger.  The way their understanding of the world changes throughout the book is fascinating, and each story intertwines a little more with the next until finally, at the end, the story is complete.  This is one I would love to study in a classroom setting, or in a book club.  This is a book that needs to be discussed and relished.  It was unlike anything I’ve read before, and unlike many of the books that draw my eye, it is one that can be read multiple times without getting too predictable.  There will always be something else to pick up on.

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The Namesake is about a boy named Gogol whose family moves to the US from Calcutta.  Gogol is the main character, but the book follows his parents just as much as it tells his story.  It’s a growing up novel, but with a wide perspective.  It’s very similar to books by Alan Brennert in that the scope of the novel is very wide, focusing on many decades and many people.  But it is not overwhelming.  It’s written in a comforting, quiet tone that immediately makes you feel as if you are part of the Ganguli family.  I haven’t quite finished it at the time this will post, but it is one that I can tell will have an impact.  The style is also somewhat reminiscent of The Kite Runner, except not as sad.  I also realized that this book has been made into a movie, so it is definitely one I’ll have to try to find and watch.

There you have it — a shorter what I’m reading post than usual, but two books that come very highly recommended.  It doesn’t really matter if these are your favorite genre or not — if you like books with good writing, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy these.

 

 

Book Review: Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower by Tom Krattenmaker

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Tom Krattenmaker is part of a growing conversation centered at Yale University that acknowledges—and seeks to address—the abiding need for meaning and inspiration in post-religious America. What, they ask, gives a life meaning? What constitutes a life well led?

In Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower, Krattenmaker shares his surprising conclusion about where input and inspiration might best be found: in the figure of Jesus. And Jesus, not only as a good example and teacher, but Jesus as the primary guide for one’s life.

Drawing on sociological research, personal experience, and insights from fifteen years studying and writing on religion in American public life, Krattenmaker shows that in Jesus, nonreligious people like himself can find unique and compelling wisdom on how to honor the humanity in ourselves and others, how to build more peaceful lives, how generosity can help people and communities create more abundance, how to break free from self-defeating behaviors, and how to tip the scales toward justice.

In a time when more people than ever are identifying as atheist or agnostic, Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower is a groundbreaking and compelling work that rediscovers Jesus–and our own best selves–for the world of today.

Before I mention anything else: if you are a professing, practicing Christian, this is probably not the book for you.  Krattenmaker is not a Christian himself, and is open about this.  He evens explicitly mentions that since he is not a Christian, he is fine with taking parts of a whole from the Jesus story and learning from those parts alone (ie, not in context with the entirety of the Bible).  He tries to take more of a historical, sociological perspective than an internal one.  But if it is against your beliefs to study the Jesus story this way, this book will likely make you more angry than anything.

That said, I enjoyed this.  Krattenmaker takes Jesus out of the Christian context and studies what has been written about him in order to gain some perspective for his own life.  The book is separated into topics such as sexuality, religious tolerance, and politics, and Krattenmaker uses specific anecdotes from the Gospels to illustrate how Jesus reacted to different situations.  The overall message is that Jesus acted differently than most humans tend to.  While we separate the world into “us” versus “them,” Jesus didn’t see it that way, and treated everyone individually.  In his eyes, every single person had value, and he interacted with them as such.  That, Krattenmaker says, is what all humans should strive for.

So if I liked it, why did I just give it 3 stars?  For starters, Krattenmaker tends to repeat himself.  Some things do bear repeating, but it felt to me like he kept restating the same few ideas over and over.  Perhaps this is because he used only 4 books from the Bible — the Gospels — but then, this makes sense because those are the only primary accounts of Jesus’ actual life.  The rest of the Bible deals with events before and after.  So even though I liked what Krattenmaker had to say, I found myself skimming the book after the first few pages of each chapter.

As for the final verdict, I would recommend this to anyone struggling with religion or lack of it.  This book can be used as a jumping-off point for those who are floundering.  It highlights the fact that Jesus really is a great example for everyone, even if the Christian church isn’t always.  If taken to heart, the principles detailed allow for the better understanding of others, and that’s never a bad thing.  This is something I would even give to a Christian who is disheartened or dissatisfied with their faith.  Taking Jesus out of the religious context, while definitely not orthodox, can be a good reminder of why Christianity began in the first place.

This book was provided to me for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.  Image from Goodreads.

What I’ve Been Reading: Feb/March 2017

In between procrastinating working very hard on projects and homework, I’ve found a little time to read.  If you are looking for books with heavy topics, this is the post for you!  Warning: this post contains quite a few spoilers.

439288Verdict: If you get a chance, PLEASE READ THIS.

Speak was recommended to me by a friend who has very good taste in books, and we saw it in the bargain section at Books-a-Million, so I went ahead and bought it.  I really think this is one of the most important books that people, especially young people, will ever read.  Word of warning: it’s not a happy book.  If you haven’t heard of it (which you may have, because it’s read fairly commonly in high schools now), it’s about rape.  The protagonist, a high school freshman, gets raped right before the start of the school year, and spends the entire year dealing with the aftermath alone.  She gets depressed, and it manifests mainly through selective mutism — she quits speaking to almost everyone except her art teacher.  She has trouble sleeping.  She loses all her friendships, because no one knows what happened and she won’t talk about it.  It’s a story that is more common than we think it is, and that’s why it’s so important.  It’s not a happy or fun book to read, but it is incredibly well-written.  The protagonist is realistic, and the language is simple and easy to understand.  I cannot stress enough the importance of this book.

13260227Verdict: Do not use to make yourself feel good about the human race.  Do use to try to understand the lives of others, and why they act the way they do.  Do use to develop your empathy.

The Distance Between Us is a memoir about being left behind.  Reyna Grande, the youngest of three siblings, grew up in Mexico after both her parents moved to the United States.  They were stuck in poverty with an abusive, neglectful grandmother, and feelings of abandonment are the main recurring theme.  Grande writes about life in Mexico, and how her older sister became the little mother for her and her brother, and how that affected her sister for the worse later in life.  She writes about how her brother struggled because he never had a good role model.  She writes about how it was when her mother returned to Mexico because her father slept with someone else.  She writes about illegally crossing the Mexican-US border after begging her father to bring her to the US, and she writes about trying to please him time and again even when he gets drunk and beats her and her siblings.  This was not a happy book to read, either.  It shows the worst effects of poverty and desperation, and if I’m being brutally honest, it makes Mexican immigrants look terrible.  Grande’s father was a horrible person, and it’s so easy to read this book and think that everyone who comes from Mexico is like that.  But this is not a book about Mexican immigrants.  It’s a book about the life of Reyna Grande.  It’s about socio-economic disadvantage.  It’s about needing a family, even if that family treats you like shit.  And it shows that it’s possible to overcome all that, but that your history will always be a part of you.

20447732Verdict: Yay! A memoir with happy parts.

A Cup of Water Under My Bed is one of the most iconic coming-of-age memoirs there is.  Hernandez discusses meshing American and Cuban-Colombian traditions, translating documents for her parents, and navigating being bisexual in a Latino family with very traditional values.  This book is more like a collections of essays than a comprehensive memoir, which makes sense since it began as an editorial column when she began writing for the New York Times.  Hernandez definitely has a knack for storytelling, and she has an interesting one to tell.  Because this one was not as devastating as the books above, I don’t remember as many of the details.  However, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys memoirs.

Besides my capstone books, that’s all I’ve been reading lately.  Reading Spanish memoirs closely really cuts into other reading, and I actually found myself getting confused about which details were from which book.  So reading all these at the same time probably wasn’t the best idea.  I’m afraid I’m going to end up basing a point in my paper about the works of Esmeralda Santiago on something I read in another memoir, but those are the hazards of wanting to read a bunch of similar things.  Enjoy!

All images from Goodreads

Book Review: Fragments by Jeff Cann

4stars

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Jeff Cann has achieved the improbable. He has taken an honest look at himself. The twenty-four stories that comprise this book range from serious and sad to funny and uplifting. And they all include an element of raw, self-analysis. These well-crafted stories each stand on their own, but together they form a mosaic, a picture of a life in transformation.

Often self-deprecating and seemingly shocked by the discoveries he’s made, Cann weaves together an engaging tale of mental unhealth, substance abuse, family life and a four-decade love of rock music.

I initially agreed to read this book because I love memoirs, and this did not disappoint.  This book, a collection of life stories, put me in mind of Blue Like Jazz (except way less religious) or even The Theft of Memory (except way more stable).  Cann is simultaneously funny and thought-provoking, and very relatable — perhaps more so than he thinks he is.

Written as an exercise in self-examination, Cann — true to his back cover copy — is honest about his life and his shortcomings.  He is open about his early life and his continuing struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, and makes no effort to hide his anxiety or OCD.  He in no way pretends to be perfect.  But while it seems to me that Cann might be a bit too hard on himself at times, he doesn’t hide his successes in life, either.  Happily married with children (no small feat in itself), Cann recounts his experiences going way out of his comfort zone to support his kids, and tells stories of perseverance in pursuing running and biking despite various injuries.  His essays are well-written, and I found myself laughing out loud in places (and then forcing my family to listen to the funny parts).

Also, as a self-published book, this is a huge success.  I normally shy away from self-published work because it is often poorly edited and low quality.  This?  Not at all.  I knew the writing would be good, because I follow Cann’s blog.  But there are also zero grammar, formatting, or print errors.  I have never seen a self-published book with zero errors.  And that speaks to not only to Cann’s passion for writing, but also the attention to detail I imagine he applies to all areas of his life.

Reading this book felt personal, like Jeff is a person I would enjoy a cup of coffee with.  I also think that this is a great book for those that also struggle with mental disorders or substance abuse, because it shows that life can be lived and enjoyed even with these often-all-enveloping problems.  TL;DR — this is a great read.

This book was provided to me for free by the author in exchange for this honest review.

Book Review: The Illustrated Book of Sayings by Ella Frances Sanders

5

Goodreads Description

Ella Frances Sanders’s first book, Lost in Translation, captured the imagination of readers with its charmingly illustrated words that have no direct English translation. Now, the New York Times-bestselling author is back with an illustrated collection that addresses the nuances of language in the form of sayings from around the world. From the French idiom “to pedal in the sauerkraut,” (i.e., “to spin your wheels,”) to the Japanese idiom “even monkeys fall from trees” (meaning, “even experts can be wrong”), Sanders presents sayings that reveal the remarkable diversity, humor, and poignancy of the world’s languages and cultures.

I haven’t traveled a whole lot, but I want to.  And in an ideal world, I’m the kind of person who would rather take two or three weeks and rent an Airbnb and shop at the local market and cook my own food — live in a place for awhile rather than tour it as a viewer.  But this is not an ideal world — who has the time or money for that?  Luckily, I found this book, which is probably as close as I will get to living in many foreign cultures.

The Illustrated Book of Sayings is both a brief and an intimate look at 52 cultures from around the world.  Sanders picks an idiom from a language, and spends around 150 words explaining the meaning, and where it comes from.  Whimsical illustrations accompany each idiom.  If this sounds at all boring or dry, I’m doing a bad job of explaining.  Sanders dips her toe into linguistics (which as a word nerd, I loved), but also relates the idiom to some idiosyncrasy of the people who use it.  It makes you feel like you’re in that country for a moment, chatting with the natives.

Plus, wordy facts aren’t all you get.  Many idioms are animal related, and Sanders seems to enjoy adding animal facts along with her explanations.  For example, did you know that “one of the largest members of the pelican family — the Dalmatian pelican — lives in Denmark”?

Sanders’ explanations are as informative as they are quirky.  And if you just really, really hate reading, you can at least have a fun time looking at the illustrations.  This is a great book to keep on the coffee table to flip through on the days you are too broke to buy a plane ticket.

I received this book from Waterbrook Multnomah’s Blogging for Books for free in exchange for this honest review.

 

Book Review: Substitute by Nicholson Baker

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Goodreads Description

In 2014, after a brief orientation course and a few fingerprinting sessions, Nicholson Baker became an on-call substitute teacher in a Maine public school district. He awoke to the dispatcher’s five-forty a.m. phone call and headed to one of several nearby schools; when he got there, he did his best to follow lesson plans and help his students get something done. What emerges from Baker’s experience is a complex, often touching deconstruction of public schooling in America: children swamped with overdue assignments, overwhelmed by the marvels and distractions of social media and educational technology, and staff who weary themselves trying to teach in step with an often outmoded or overly ambitious standard curriculum. In Baker’s hands, the inner life of the classroom is examined anew mundane worksheets, recess time-outs, surprise nosebleeds, rebellions, griefs, jealousies, minor triumphs, daily lessons on everything from geology to metal tech to the Holocaust to kindergarten show-and-tell as the author and his pupils struggle to find ways to get through the day. Baker is one of the most inventive and remarkable writers of our time, and “Substitute,” filled with humor, honesty, and empathy, may be his most impressive work of nonfiction yet.”

I’ve had this book since September, and just cannot make myself finish it.  Baker may be “one of the most inventive and remarkable writers of our time,” but this book is neither inventive nor remarkable.

If I wanted to hear a play-by-play of every single minute of a substitute’s day, I would just talk to my mom, who can talk to me face-to-face and actually make a story interesting.  She substitutes quite a bit, and tends to tell detailed stories, but she has a knack for storytelling and pulling out the interesting parts of the day.  She focuses on one or two kids and tells me what she thought of them in depth and why she thought they weren’t doing well or, in some cases, how sorry she feels for them just from the little she heard about their home life.  She humanizes them.  Baker tries, but he falls short.

The book is organized into chapters, each of which summarizes one day as a substitute.  Every single chapter consists of verbatim conversations, Baker’s thoughts about feeling tired and inadequate, and near word-for-word lessons that Baker taught or heard.  (Did he just record and transcribe his days as a substitute, and send that to his editor??)  If I wanted that, I’d substitute myself.  I’ve been through elementary and middle school; I know what classrooms are like.

With this book, I think Baker was trying to show just how bogged down students feel by school.  In the schools he was at, each student was issued an iPad in order to more easily turn in homework or play educational games during down time.  But there were a lot of technological malfunctions that resulted in kids sitting around for long stretches of time.  There were intellectual gaps that made it difficult to teach to a level everyone could understand.  There were seemingly pointless assignments — busywork — that not even Baker wanted to do, much less the students.  If our school system is this frustrating for a substitute, Baker tries to say, imagine how much more so it is for kids who must spend 13 years there.

While I understood Baker’s goal with the book, it just was not enjoyable to read.  It was boring.  I found myself skimming page after page,  skipping ahead in the book to see if it got any better.  Even then, I could only force myself to finish about half the book.  It just wasn’t interesting.  I definitely think Baker has more than enough material to make an interesting book, but he should have used the book as it is now as a resource.  He should have tailored the stories a bit more, and tried to create some semblance of a story line from the things he experienced and the kids he met.  I gave a rave review to a similar book a few months ago, and wish Substitute had been as good as it was.  Besides the fact that the other book was written by a full-time teacher, the only difference, really, was that the other one was organized into chapters according to theme, not days.  It made the book a lot easier to take in.

I may not give up on Baker completely, because he has written several other books (mostly novels) that seem to have good ratings.  In fact, I think Substitute is his lowest-rated book on Goodreads.  However, I wouldn’t recommend this book at all, unless you have insomnia and need something ridiculously boring to lull you to sleep tonight.

I received this book from Blue Rider Press through NetGalley for free in exchange for this honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi

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Inside Cover Synopsis:

Cairo, 1984.  A blisteringly hot summer.  A young girl in a sprawling family house.  She passes her days quietly: listening to her mother’s phone conversations, looking a the Nile from a bedroom window, watching the three state-sanctioned TV stations with the volume off, daydreaming about other lives.  Underlying this claustrophobic routine is mystery and loss.  Relatives mutter darkly about the newly appointed President Mubarak.  Everyone talks with melancholy about the past.  People disappear overnight.  And her own father has left, too — why, or to where, no one will say.

The story unfolds over three pivotal summers, form her youth to adulthood: as a six-year-old absorbing the world around her, filled with questions she can’t ask; as a college student and aspiring filmmaker preoccupied with love, language, and the repression that surrounds her; and later, in the turbulent aftermath of Mubarak’s overthrow, as a writer considering the silences that have shaped her life.

At once a mapping of a city in transformation and a story about the shifting realities and fates of a single Egyptian family, Yasmine El Rashidi’s Chronicle of a Last Summer traces the fine line between survival and complicity, exploring the conscience of a generation raised in silence.

The next time I choose a book about a country other than my own, I am going to make sure that I know a little bit of background before I dive in.  To be honest, I had very little idea what was going on throughout the entire book.  Several significant political and personal events happened (I think), but I couldn’t really figure out what because there was very little description and very little dialogue.

I think this was intentional, though, because the main (and nameless) character didn’t really know what was going on either.  For the vast majority of her growing-up years, our MC was virtually stuck inside her own mind, and that is definitely how this book feels.  No one would really talk to her —  there are verbal exchanges, but most of them are non-versations where true feelings, facts, and questions go unsaid and unasked.  Also, I don’t think there was one set of quotes in the entire novel — what dialogue there is is written in the context of the MC thinking about them after they have happened.  Everything is filtered through her thoughts, almost (but not quite) like a stream of consciousness.  It’s more like a stream of observation, which is probably what her entire life has felt like, since silence is such a dominating theme in the book.

Honestly, it’s a bit frustrating to read the book, because things keep happening, but we don’t really know what they are or why they’re happening.  The reading experience definitely mirrors the MC’s entire life, however, and that really speaks to El Rashidi’s talent.  She makes the reader identify with the MC without even realizing it.  I didn’t realize the extent of this until I began writing this review, and that almost made me add a star to my rating.  However, even if I knew more about Egypt’s history and better understood the events surrounding the MC’s life, I still think I would have found this book a bit bogged down.  I understand that this was probably intentional, and is important to the understanding of that time in history, but I have read other books similar to this that were more engaging.  Thus, I stuck with three stars.

I would recommend this more to people with a niche interest in history and/or Egypt than to a general reader.  However, I would also be interested in learning a bit more about El Rashidi’s other work, because she seems to be influential and well thought-out.

This book was provided to me for free by Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for this honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: Buying a Bride by Marcia A. Zug

4.5

 

NetGalley Description

There have always been mail-order brides in America—but we haven’t always thought about them in the same ways. In Buying a Bride, Marcia A. Zug starts with the so-called “Tobacco Wives” of the Jamestown colony and moves all the way forward to today’s modern same-sex mail-order grooms to explore the advantages and disadvantages of mail-order marriage. It’s a history of deception, physical abuse, and failed unions. It’s also the story of how mail-order marriage can offer women surprising and empowering opportunities.

Drawing on a forgotten trove of colorful mail-order marriage court cases, Zug explores the many troubling legal issues that frequently arise in mail-order marriage: domestic abuse and murder, breach of contract, fraud (especially relating to immigration), and human trafficking and prostitution. She tells the story of how mail-order marriage lost the benign reputation it enjoyed in the Civil War era to become more and more reviled over time, and she argues compellingly that it does not entirely deserve its current reputation. While it is a common misperception that women turn to mail-order marriage as a desperate last resort, most mail-order brides are enticed rather than coerced. Since the first mail-order brides arrived on American shores in 1619, mail-order marriage has enabled women to increase both their marital prospects and their legal, political, and social freedoms. Buying a Bride uncovers this history and shows us how mail-order marriage empowers women. Mail-order marriage should, Zug concludes, be protected and even encouraged.

Marcia A. Zug is Associate Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina.

Firstly, it took me so long to finish this book.  But it wasn’t because it was boring, wordy, or stuffy.  Quite on the contrary, I was sucked into this book every time I picked up my Kindle.  The tone is simultaneously academic and anecdotal.  Reading it was like listening to a really engaging lecture.  Honestly, I could see it being assigned for some type of women’s studies course.

This book opened my eyes to the realities of mail-order marriage.  Like most Americans, I have always thought of mail-order brides as somewhat desperate.  I would never have stopped to consider the possibility that mail-order marriage is not only highly beneficial for the bride herself, but also for the society and economy into which she assimilates.

While Zug acknowledges that there were and are cases where the woman enters into an abusive or otherwise unsatisfactory union, the majority of mail-order brides and their husbands find a lot of satisfaction, maybe even more than those who found each other traditionally.  Because mail-order brides were solicited and entered into with lots of consideration, the women were valued very highly by the men.  The matches wouldn’t work unless both parties knew the other’s expectations and lived up to them.  This way, women were and are able to choose the most advantageous situation rather than having to settle for an unequal match or a life of single-hood.

Along with this relational satisfaction, mail-order brides were good for the economy.  In the early days of the US, the presence of women allowed more permanent settlements, so the government offered incentives for women who moved west for marriage.  This was a win-win-win for women, men, and the government.  In modern times, Zug makes the point that married couples contribute more to society, and mail-order marriage has allowed men who have otherwise dismal prospects to enjoy marriage.  Marriage makes happier, healthier people, and those people are more productive, so this ultimately benefits the economy as well.

The book was incredibly well-researched and very interesting to read.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in relationships, women, and global/international relations.  Because of the strong effect marriage has on society, the book touches on many issues other than just marriage, including gender equality, racism, and economics.  It’s a fascinating and authoritative read.

This book was provided to me for free from NYU Press through NetGalley in exchange for this review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: Teacher Misery by Jane Morris

5

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NetGalley Synopsis:

Teacher Misery perfectly encapsulates the comical misery that has become the teaching profession. Morris’ strange, funny, and sometimes unbelievable teaching experiences are told through a collection of short stories, essays and artifacts including real emails from parents, students and administrators. From the parents who blame their son’s act of arson on the teacher for causing him low self-esteem, to the student who offers to teach the teacher how to sell drugs so she can pay her bills, to the administrator whose best advice is to “treat kids like sacks of shit,” one story is more shocking than the next. An important read for teachers and non-teachers alike– Teacher Misery paints an amusing and thoroughly entertaining picture of what has become of our education system, without detracting from the overall point that what teachers have to put up with today is complete, utter, unacceptable insanity.

If you feel like being completely entertained while also losing all hope for the American school system, read this book.

I could not put this book down.  The stories that Morris tells about the school system are riveting.  The antics and violence and outright stupidity that she and other teachers have had to endure are outright insane — some of it is so crazy it’s almost unbelievable.  If I did not know many public school teachers personally, I would be inclined to believe some of her stories are embellished.  But while I was fortunate enough to escape the atrocity that is public school, I’ve heard enough to know that this is all real.

In a lot of ways, this is such a depressing book.  We all know that our school system needs some vast improvements, but this book is a down-and-dirty look at all the ridiculous ways it needs help.  While many of the stories and episodes are hilarious, the fact that these stories actually happened is really a cause for concern.  Teacher Misery simultaneously makes me feel hopeless about our school system and gives me so much more respect and appreciation for every teacher I know.

Teaching is hard.  I think it is one of the most difficult professions a person can choose, right alongside going to war — seriously.  Not only do teachers have to pursue extensive training, but they also have to deal with ridiculous or unenforced policies, parents who refuse to discipline their children, and students who are blatantly disrespectful and sometimes dangerous.  They must watch out for psychological issues, bad living conditions, and substance abuse while staying within the confines of privacy, policy, and procedure.  And they must do all this while actually teaching — introducing new ideas and concepts and encouraging students to think critically about all aspects of their lives — in between mandatory testing, of course.  The stress that teachers are put under is incredible — Morris starts the book by stating that almost half of all teachers quit within their first five years.  Most cannot handle it.

Teacher Misery is a brutally honest look into teaching, and I think it’s something that needs to be read.  When I began writing this review, I was going to write that my only complaint was that Morris does not counter her bad experiences with any good ones.  But then I remembered it was titled Teacher Misery for a reason.  If I had experienced all that Morris had been through, I would rant for 244 pages too.

I received this book from Truth Be Told Publishing through NetGalley for free in exchange for this honest review.