Books Read in April 2016

I read 10 books in April (three were audiobooks), which brings my 2016 total to 37.

These are the books I started reading in April but decided not to finish:

  • Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, John Elder Robison
    I got almost halfway through this book before I put it down. I kept hoping the author’s endless tales of boyhood shenanigans would stop and he’d address how he deals with Asperger’s in his adult life. I’m sure he must have moved on at some point, but I got impatient and abandoned it.
  • Why Catholics Are Right, Michael Coren
    My husband is Catholic so I thought I’d see what this author had to say about it. The first chapter was interesting, but then Cohen started in on the history of the Crusades and in-depth theology which I wasn’t at all interested in (to be fair, I’d feel the same about any dry religious tome; not just one on Catholicism).

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.



1) Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability, David Owen

Description: Most Americans think of crowded cities as ecological nightmares. Yet residents of compact urban centers individually consume less oil, electricity, and water than other Americans. They live in smaller spaces, discard less trash, and, most important of all, spend far less time in automobiles. Owen contends the environmental problem we face, at the current stage of our assault on the world’s nonrenewable resources, is not how to make teeming cities more like the countryside. The problem is how to make other settled places more like Manhattan, whose residents presently come closer than any other Americans to meeting environmental goals that all of us will eventually have to come to terms with.

Just like when reading about hoarding made me want to immediately throw out most of my possessions, this book made me want to move into an apartment building in a densely-populated city. The author makes a strong case about how city living is much more environmentally friendly than living in the wilderness (or even a suburb). A big reason? Living far away from work, grocery stores, schools, and other common resources requires you to drive long distances on a regular basis, and apart from the cost of fuel – which is kept artificially low – our oil reserves won’t last forever.

I do have to point out the author’s hypocrisy, and I’m not the first to do so. He preaches city living while residing in a 3-story, 200-year-old house in rural Connecticut. His explanation (that he and his wife are writers so they don’t have a daily commute; if he moved away someone else would just move in, which that doesn’t solve the existing environmental problems) doesn’t seem very strong. I feel he’d be a much better role model if he lived what he’s recommending to others. Still…it’s a good book!

2) Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Elizabeth L. Cline

Description: Cheap fashion has fundamentally changed the way most Americans dress. We have little reason to keep wearing and repairing the clothes we already own when styles change so fast and it’s cheaper to just buy more. Cline sets out to uncover the true nature of the cheap fashion juggernaut. What are we doing with all these cheap clothes? And more important, what are they doing to us, our society, our environment, and our economic well-being?

Written from the perspective of someone who used to buy a lot of cheap clothing without thinking about it, the author decided to educate herself on where her clothes come from, why they’re so cheap, and how the entire fashion industry has changed in a relatively short period of time. Very interesting and informative. It will definitely make you rethink your purchasing decisions.

3) Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto, Lesley Hazleton

Description: Hazleton gives voice to the case for agnosticism, breaks it free of its stereotypes as watered-down atheism or amorphous “seeking,” and celebrates it as a reasoned, revealing, and sustaining stance toward life. Stepping over the lines imposed by rigid conviction, she draws on philosophy, theology, psychology, and science to explore the vital role of mystery in a deceptively information-rich world; to ask what we mean by the search for meaning; to invoke the humbling yet elating perspective of infinity; to challenge received ideas about death; and to reconsider what “the soul” might be.

I found myself wishing this book had more personal anecdotes (it’s a bit more dense and scholarly than I expected). However, I did enjoy it, and would recommend it to others. Even people who have a firm belief in a god can benefit from reading other people’s viewpoints.

Back when I was growing up in a religious household, the concept of living forever in heaven was difficult for me to grasp, and it didn’t seem all that appealing. I liked what Hazleton had to say: “For myself, I have no intention of only half-living this life in anticipation of a hypothetical next one. I want to live my life as well and as fully as I can. […] The last thing I would ever want is to have no end, to find myself adrift in the horizonless expanse of eternity. I want, that is, to live the mortal life I have.”

4) Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, Leah Remini

Description: Indoctrinated into Scientology as a child, Remini eventually moved to Los Angeles, where her dreams of becoming an actress and advancing Scientology’s causes grew increasingly intertwined. As an adult, she found the success she’d worked so hard for, and with it a prominent place in the hierarchy of celebrity Scientologists alongside people such as Tom Cruise. But when she began to raise questions about some of the church’s actions, she found herself a target. Remini loudly and publicly broke away from the church in 2013.

I didn’t know anything about Leah Remini before reading this book (I never watched “The King of Queens”), and I had already read two very interesting books about Scientology (Going Clear and Beyond Belief) previous to this one, so I wasn’t planning to add this to my list. I changed my mind when I found this review on The Book Wheel and was immediately intrigued.

I had no idea Remini was involved with Scientology for 30 years before she left the organization in 2013; she gave them a big part of her life and many millions of dollars. Fascinating read.

5) My Father, the Pornographer, Chris Offutt

Description: When Andrew Offutt died, his son Chris inherited 1800 pounds of pornographic fiction, including 400 novels of pornography written by his father in the 1970s and 1980s. As Chris began to examine his father’s manuscripts, memorabilia, journals, and letters, he realized he finally had an opportunity to gain insight into the difficult, mercurial, sometimes cruel man he’d loved and feared in equal measure.

This is a story about Offutt’s father, but it also involves his mother, and the author’s own memoir. It was interesting to read about his childhood even though it obviously wasn’t a pleasant situation in which to be raised. It seems the pornographer father – who wrote hundreds of short stories and novels over his 50-year career – successfully hid most of his deepest dark predilections until his death, but he did that by closing his office door and retreating from his family.

While the author said his motivation for going through his father’s 1800 pounds of writing and research material was to get to know him better, the long process seemed to do more harm than good. He spent months combing through his father’s hardcore pornography, depressing himself (and his libido) simultaneously, but in the end he put all the material into storage.

What else should he have done with it? I don’t know, but it did make me question the immense amount of time he spent categorizing the material.

6) Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer

Description: Acclaimed journalist Krakauer investigates a spate of campus rapes that occurred in Missoula over a four-year period. Taking the town as a case study for a crime that is prevalent throughout the nation, Krakauer documents the experiences of five victims: their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the skepticism directed at them by police, prosecutors, and the public; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them.

There were a lot of people in this book, which sometimes made it difficult to keep all the names straight. But just like every other work of Krakauer’s I’ve read, it was extensively researched and attention grabbing.

7) Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit

Description: In her essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” Solnit took on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She wrote about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t, why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works. This book adds six essays, including an examination doubt and ambiguity, an inquiry into marriage equality, and a terrifying survey of the scope of contemporary violence against women.

I put this on my list after Jaclyn recommended it; she said it was “incredible and distressing and should be required reading for everyone.” In addition to the title essay (which has been credited with inspiring the term mansplaining), Solnit touches on the pandemic of violence against women, same-sex marriage, the historical subjugation of women, and reproductive rights. There were a few essays I wasn’t interested in (like the one on Virginia Woolf), but as a whole, it’s worth checking out.


8) The Lake House, Kate Morton

Description: In 1933, after a party drawing hundreds of guests to their estate, the Edevanes discover their youngest child, 11-month-old Theo, has vanished. The tragedy tears the family apart. Decades later, Theo’s sister Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a successful career as an author, while Sadie Sparrow, a detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall. While out walking, she stumbles upon the old Edevane estate—now crumbling and covered with vines, clearly abandoned long ago. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone.

I had every intention of rating this book as Recommended (I flew through it in just a few days, and there are over 500 pages) up until I reached the final few chapters.

What I liked: the story was told from the perspectives of many different people, and the conflicting hypotheses of “what really happened that night” were slowly debunked as the book ran its course. I didn’t guess the ending at all until the author decided it was time to put it out there.

What I didn’t like: I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a work of fiction that wrapped up every single loose end with a pretty pink bow. One or two positive resolutions would have been acceptable, but by the time I reached the end, the author had taken me from eagerly working my way through the chapters, to rolling my eyes. It was laughable (not in a good way) and completely unrealistic.

This is the first Kate Morton book I’ve read, and I expected more from someone who has written multiple bestsellers and sold millions of copies.

9) The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, David Grann

Description: In 1925, legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon jungle in search of a fabled civilization. He never returned. Over the years, countless people have perished trying to find evidence of what happened. Journalist Grann interweaves the spellbinding stories of Fawcett’s quest for the lost city of Z, along with his own journey into the deadly jungle, as he unravels the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century.

This book has been on my potential to-do list for years. I finally checked it out of the library on audiobook and listened to it over a few weeks. There were some parts I liked, but the problem was I was more interested in the present-day author’s journey to the Amazon than Percy Fawcett’s extensive history.

10) Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, and My Midlife Quest to Dance the Nutcracker, Lauren Kessler

Description: When Lauren was twelve, her ballet instructor crushed not just her dreams of being a ballerina but also her youthful self-assurance. Now, many decades and three children later, Kessler embarks on a journey to join a professional company to perform in The Nutcracker.

I admire the author’s dedication to her goal, and I enjoyed reading about the lives and backgrounds of the professional dancers she came in contact with. However, there was too much space dedicated to the self-help books she read, the results of various online personality tests she took, her experience in various exercise classes, and waaaaaay too much about how she acquired her stage makeup (complete with brand names). All this extra fluff made it seem like she was desperately trying to fill up space in her book.

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  • Reply Allison @ The Book Wheel May 1, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    I’m so glad that you are going to pick up Leah Remini’s book! It’s such a great read and gives a unique perspective. Please let me know what you think when you finish it!

    • Reply Zandria May 1, 2016 at 1:42 pm

      Silly Allison! I included it on my April reading list because I read it this month. I thanked you for being the one to recommend it (and I rated it as “Recommended” as well). 🙂

      • Reply Allison @ The Book Wheel May 1, 2016 at 1:50 pm

        This is what I get for reading and commenting on my iPhone while cuddling with the dogs. Now that I’m on the computer….. sorry about that! I’m glad you loved it. I think we both went into it not knowing much about her which made it even more interesting! I’m going to go put my head in a hole now.

  • Reply Litterless Blog May 11, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    Green Metropolis looks so interesting – will have to pick it up at my library!

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