Books Read in February 2018

I read six books in February (three were audiobooks), which brings my 2018 total to 15.

The reason I only read six books is because I started and discarded seven others. This has to be a record. It’s not uncommon for me to put a book down but apparently I was having trouble finding something I wanted to read this month.

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

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

Highly Recommended

1) Real American: A Memoir, Julie Lythcott-Haims

Description: Lythcott-Haims pulls no punches in her recollections of growing up a biracial black woman in America. She stirringly evokes her personal battle with the low self-esteem that American racism routinely inflicts on people of color. The only child of a marriage between an African-American father and a white British mother, she shows indelibly how so-called “micro” aggressions in addition to blunt force insults can puncture a person’s inner life with a thousand sharp cuts.

This is a powerful story. Julie grew up biracial in a majority-white neighborhood and school system, never feeling like she completely fit in. She admits she didn’t know how to interact with black people, as there weren’t many opportunities to do so. She dated white men, and married one of them at age 24 (you’ll be happy to hear, as I was, that they’re still happily married 30 years later).

The first part of the book follows her childhood, high school, and college years (including a degree from Harvard Law School). The second half deals with her awakening as a black woman.

One example that stands out was when her daughter was born, with skin so light she could pass for white, and after her birth Julie realized she’d been hoping her daughter would be black. She wanted her daughter to look like her because she grew up not looking like her (white, British) mother. Instead it was her son who had dark skin, and when Trayvon Martin was murdered, she knew instinctively that her son (or any black male) could be next.

I didn’t have to wait long at all for the hold on this book. I was glad to have access to it so soon but I wish there was a longer list of holds for it at the library. Hopefully more people will be reading it.


2) Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, Scott Kelly

Description: A veteran of four space flights and American record holder for consecutive days spent in space, Kelly has experienced things very few have. Here he describes navigating the extreme challenge of long-term spaceflight: the devastating effects on the body; the isolation from everyone he loves and the comforts of Earth; the pressures of constant close cohabitation; the catastrophic risks of depressurization or colliding with space junk, and the still more haunting threat of being unable to help should tragedy strike at home–an agonizing situation Kelly faced when, on one mission, his twin brother’s wife, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot while he still had two months in space.

I’ve never wanted to be an astronaut, but I heard this book was good and the reviewers were right. Kelly takes us from life on the International Space Station (where he lived for a year), to his rebellious childhood, to his epiphany that he wanted to be an astronaut, and the immense amount of preparation and training that he went through to make it into space.

It was surprisingly fascinating to hear Kelly describe what it’s like to live in zero gravity and some of the things he did (like space walking outside the station to perform routine maintenance and repairs, which required hours of prep time beforehand to lessen the potential for any disasters).

Before I heard about this book, I didn’t realize Scott Kelly is the twin brother of Mark Kelly, the retired astronaut married to Gabrielle Giffords.

3) The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir, Maude Julien

Description: Maude’s parents were fanatics who believed it was their sacred duty to turn her into the ultimate survivor – raising her in isolation, tyrannizing her childhood, and subjecting her to endless drills designed to eliminate weakness. Maude learned to hold an electric fence for minutes without flinching, and to sit perfectly still in a rat-infested cellar all night long. She endured a life without heat, hot water, adequate food, friendship, or affection. But Maude’s parents could not rule her inner life.

It’s difficult to fathom what the author went through growing up, until she was able to escape from her parents at age 18. It would have been less surprising to hear all this was happening in the 1800s or earlier, but this was the late 1950s through mid-1970s. This article contains spoilers, but it’ll give you an idea what the book is about and what Julien went through.

4) Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life, Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Bush

Description: Born into a political dynasty, Jenna and Barbara Bush grew up in the public eye. As small children, they watched their grandfather become president; just twelve years later they stood by their father’s side when he took the same oath. Here they take readers on a tour behind the scenes, with never-before-told stories about their family, adventures, loves and losses, and the special bond that fulfills them.

I decided to listen to this audiobook (which the authors voice themselves) after I saw Jenna and Barbara interviewed by Chelsea Handler. I wasn’t sure I would like the book at first, and it starts off pretty saccharine (I don’t approve of women in their mid-30s calling their former-President grandfather “Gampy”), but I ended up liking their story more as it went on.

Jenna and Barbara take turns writing sections, starting with childhood, visiting the White House for the first time, the suicide of Barbara’s boyfriend when they were teenagers, the events of 9/11, and reactions to their father’s decision to go to war in Iraq.

Jenna is funny and self-deprecating, and I liked her story about starting out as a teacher and ending up as a correspondent for the Today show. The only downside is she reads her portion of the book in the cadence of a TV reporter, which I found unnatural for an audiobook.

Barbara is a self-proclaimed minimalist (which I appreciated), and she travels a lot for work as the founder of a nonprofit called Global Health Corps. She prides herself on never checking a bag no matter how long the trip. She’s an advocate for Planned Parenthood and voted for Hillary Clinton.


5) A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal, Jen Waite

Description: Waite realized her loving husband — the father of her infant daughter, her best friend, the love of her life — fit the textbook definition of a psychopath. Waite recounts each heartbreaking discovery, every life-destroying lie, and reveals what happened once the dust settled on her demolished marriage. With a dual-timeline narrative structure, we see Waite’s romance bud, bloom, and wither simultaneously, making the heartbreak and disbelief even more affecting.

When I was looking at reviews for this book on Goodreads, I came across this gem which summed up my thoughts very well: “I feel bad for Ms. Waite in the way I would feel bad if a friend or acquaintance was telling me this story, but I’m a bit stumped as to why it’s book worthy.”

The conversations in this book sound stilted and the writing doesn’t flow very well. This as a cautionary tale and a quick read, but I would say the biggest takeaway is…try not to fall under the spell of a sociopath.

6) The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae

Description: Being an introvert in a world that glorifies cool isn’t easy. But when Rae, the creator of the hit series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” is that introvert, it sure is entertaining. In this debut collection of essays, Rae covers everything from cybersexing in the early days of the Internet to deflecting unsolicited comments on weight gain, from navigating the perils of eating out alone and public displays of affection, to learning to accept yourself — natural hair and all.

I had never heard of Issa Rae before reading this book, but it’s a memoir and written by a minority author, which fits my intent to increase the number of minority authors I read in 2018. There are some entertaining aspects to this book, but it didn’t wow me.

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  • Reply Jaclyn February 28, 2018 at 8:42 am

    You have a great list there! I’m intrigued by Endurance. And I wasn’t planning to read Sisters First, but you’ve convinced me! I read I Am Malala this month and enjoyed it, but if child/teen narrators aren’t your thing I can see why you put it down. The one downside of the book, in my opinion, was that it seemed like it went overboard trying to make the voice sound like a young girl – I blame the co-writer for that and found myself wondering how much of the writing was authentically Malala’s style. I still loved it, though.

    • Reply Zandria February 28, 2018 at 12:59 pm

      I’m glad you mentioned that about the voice sounding younger than you expected it to be. It makes me feel validated about having put it down. SO many people have written about reading and enjoying the book that I feel I’ll likely read it one day, but I just wasn’t in the mood for it this month.

  • Reply Katie @ Doing Dewey March 9, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    Sorry to hear you had trouble finding something that worked for you this month! Both Real American and Endurance sound fascinating, as do a lot of the books you tried.

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