I read 5 books in May (one was an audiobook), which brings my 2016 total to 42.
I started reading this book in May but decided not to finish it:
- Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, Russell Shorto
I lived in Amsterdam for five months in 2004 while I did a college semester abroad, and I’ve held a soft spot for the city ever since. The American-born author started out talking about his personal experience living in Amsterdam, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but then he delved into stuff that happened back in the 1500s and 1600s and I was like, “Ahhhh! Too much dense history!” So I stopped reading it. But it does make me want to explore books about the Netherlands that maybe aren’t so history-focused.
I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.
Description: Why would a successful American physician choose to live in a 12-by-12-foot cabin without running water or electricity? To find out, writer and activist Powers visited Dr. Jackie Benton in rural North Carolina. A creek gurgled through Benton’s permaculture farm, and she stroked honeybees’ wings as she shared her philosophy of living on a planet in crisis. Powers, just back from a decade of international aid work, accepted Benton’s offer to stay at the cabin for a season while she traveled. There, he befriended her eclectic neighbors — organic farmers, biofuel brewers, eco-developers — and discovered a sustainable but imperiled way of life.
There aren’t many people who want to spend so much time in solitude — at least not in a tiny house without the comforts of electricity and running water. Powers would spend hours upon hours walking through the woods or sitting by a creek. He had visitors and sometimes spent time with neighbors, but he was by himself a majority of his stay.
You’d think that wouldn’t leave a lot to write about, but you would be wrong. Now I’m interested to read his followup book, New Slow City: Living Simply in the World’s Fastest City (where he sets out to live a similarly minimalist life in the heart of New York City instead of rural North Carolina). Since I just finished reading Green Metropolis, I know it’s possible.
2) Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars, Samuel I. Schwartz
Description: In this clear and erudite presentation of the principles of smart transportation and sustainable urban planning—from the simplest cobblestoned street to the brave new world of driverless cars and trains—Schwartz combines rigorous historical scholarship with the personal and entertaining recollections of a man who has spent more than 40 years working on planning intelligent transit networks in New York City. Street Smart is a book for everyone who wants to know more about the who, what, when, where, and why of human mobility.
I enjoy reading about smart cities and what kinds of things cities are doing to make their locations more desirable as places to walk and cycle. There are huge environmental and health benefits to limiting automobile use.
3) Witches of America, Alex Mar
Description: Mar explores Paganism and the occult, from its roots in 1950s England to its current American mecca in the Bay Area; from a gathering of more than a thousand witches in the Illinois woods to the New Orleans branch of one of the world’s most influential magical societies. She takes part in dozens of rituals, some vast and some intimate, alongside all sorts of people. Throughout, she asks the central question: Why do we choose to believe in anything at all?
I’m not interested in witchcraft on a personal basis, but reading about other people’s level of involvement was pretty eye-opening. The author, a self-described “overeducated liberal, a feminist, a skeptic long suspicious of organized religion” immersed herself in the subject for years — the original purpose was to make a documentary, which she did, but she continued exploring the occult for years afterward and gives a good overview of the branches she came into contact with. (Apparently there are a lot of branches, more than I ever would have guessed.)
4) Alligator Candy: A Memoir, David Kushner
Description: David grew up in the early 1970s in the Florida suburbs. One morning in 1973, David’s older brother Jon biked through the forest to the convenience store for candy, and never returned. Every life has a defining moment, a single act that charts the course we take and determines who we become. For Kushner, it was Jon’s murder—a tragedy that shocked his family and the community at large. Decades later, David found himself unsatisfied with his own memories and decided to revisit the episode a different way: through the eyes of a reporter. His investigation brought him back to the places and people he once knew and slowly made him realize just how much his past had affected his present.
When you’re only four years old when your brother is murdered, it makes sense you wouldn’t remember many details of what happened. Kushner conducts interviews and extensive research to recreate the story in a very personal, interesting, and heartfelt way.
5) Paris: A Love Story, Kati Marton
Description: In this honest and candid memoir, award-winning journalist and author Kati Marton narrates an impassioned and romantic story of love, loss, and life after loss. At every stage of her life, Marton finds beauty and excitement in Paris.
This was a nice story but not one I was particularly interested in. I couldn’t help feeling animosity toward her when she admitted to cheating on both of her husbands (news anchor Peter Jennings and ambassador Richard Holbrooke). Even though it was a small part of the story and both men apparently forgave her, I don’t like reading about infidelity, or watching movies where it’s a theme. If she had chosen not to share it, I wouldn’t have rated the book any higher, but I would have thought more of her as a person.