I read nine books in August (six were audiobooks), which brings my 2018 total to 59.
I started reading one book in August that I decided not to finish:
- The Woman in the Window: A Novel, A.J. Finn
This book was recommended as a great suspenseful read, but I only got 25% of the way through before I gave up on it. I wasn’t interested in this woman’s life, nor her inane conversations. I’m sure (or at least I hope) everything was building up to a great ending, but I just didn’t care enough to find out. Give me a memoir any day.
I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.
1) Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson
Description: Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew him into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship — and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
Fascinating look at the sheer number of people in prison, many of whom were wrongly imprisoned, or not given a fair trial, or given sentences far greater than what the crime deserved. Stevenson and his team have represented these people for many years, and this book cites examples of some of their cases (and both wins and losses).
2) North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail, Scott and Jenny Jurek
Description: Scott Jurek is one of the world’s best known ultrarunners. Renowned for his remarkable endurance on a vegan diet, he’s finished first in nearly all of ultrarunning’s elite events in his career. But after two decades, he felt an urgent need to discover something new about himself. He embarked on a unique challenge, one that would force him to grow as a person and as an athlete: breaking the speed record for the Appalachian Trail. This is the story of the 2,189-mile journey that nearly shattered him.
I’ve read several books about people who’ve walked the length of the Appalachian Trail, but this is the first time I read one that focused on setting a speed record. I found it insane that Scott ran 40-50 miles a day until he’d completed the entire trail. Unsurprisingly, his body started breaking down during the last few weeks and he fell into a depression. I felt bad for him because he was attempting a record but the process itself was taking such a toll that he just didn’t care anymore.
3) The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, Francisco Cantú
Description: Fresh out of college, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners are posted to remote regions crisscrossed by drug routes and smuggling corridors, where they learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive. Plagued by nightmares, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the whole story.
This isn’t a job I thought I’d have any interest in learning more about, but Francisco was only in the Border Patrol for four years. It goes into some of the things he did and witnessed in the field, but it’s more about how that experience (and subsequent experiences) changed him as a person.
I would have liked the book to end with his thoughts on border security, our political climate, and what his life is like now, but he leaves opinions to the reader rather than giving his own outright. The tone is definitely sobering, not at all uplifting, but I felt it was worth reading.
4) Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert
Description: At the end of her bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert fell in love with Felipe, a Brazilian-born man of Australian citizenship who’d been living in Indonesia when they met. Resettling in America, the couple swore eternal fidelity to each other, but also swore to never get legally married. Providence intervened in the form of the U.S. government, which — after detaining Felipe at an American border crossing — gave the couple a choice: they could either get married, or Felipe would never be allowed to enter the country again. Having been effectively sentenced to wed, Gilbert tackled her fears of marriage by delving into this topic completely, trying with all her might to discover through historical research, interviews, and much personal reflection what this stubbornly enduring old institution actually is.
I read this book years ago when Liz Gilbert was still married to “Felipe,” so it was a bit strange to read about her adoration for him now that they’ve been divorced for several years and she entered a relationship with a woman (RIP). Like all her books, though, I enjoyed her commentary (especially the section about her choice to be child-free) and her research and how she puts her thoughts together.
5) Rough Beauty: Forty Seasons of Mountain Living, Karen Auvinen
Description: During a difficult time, Karen flees to a primitive cabin in the Rockies to live in solitude as a writer and to embrace all the beauty and brutality nature has to offer. When a fire incinerates every word she has ever written and all of her possessions — except for her beloved dog, her truck, and a few singed artifacts — Karen embarks on a heroic journey to reconcile her desire to be alone with her need for community.
Karen lives a solitary life in the mountains above Boulder, with her dog Elvis and a motley crew of characters from the nearby (small) town. I was worried there would be too much nature writing in this book (I cannot stand nature writing), and while there was some, it wasn’t too much. I enjoyed reading the back story of how she ended up where she is, as well as her daily existence of writing, working multiple jobs to pay bills, tending to the wood stove to heat her house, dealing with bats and mice indoors, and regular visits from bears.
6) There Are No Grown-ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story, Pamela Druckerman
Description: What are the modern forties, and what do we know once we reach them? And why didn’t anyone warn us that we’d get cellulite on our arms? Part frank memoir, part hilarious investigation of daily life, There Are No Grown-Ups diagnoses the in-between decade.
Pamela asks the question, “What is a grown up and when do you start feeling that way?” She then introduces a bunch of scenarios she’s experienced to show how her life has changed since she hit 40. Like many people, it took her a long time to feel like a grown-up, even though she has a husband and three kids. This book is okay, but I didn’t love it. I thought her book on French parenting was better.
7) So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
Description: Oluo offers a contemporary take on the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on such issues as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between people of color and white Americans struggling with race complexities, Oluo answers the questions readers don’t dare ask, and explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans.
I’ve read a number of books this year on the topic of race relations. I’m not sure whether it was the book itself or whether this is the fourth one or so I’ve read, but I felt like I have a bit of fatigue on the subject. I liked Ijeoma’s personal stories but a lot of the book focuses on how-to strategies, which I struggled to stay interested in.
8) The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
Description: From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage — and a life, in good times and bad — that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.
I wasn’t enamored with this book like others have been, but maybe that’s because it’s been a really long time since I’ve lost someone close to me. She talks a lot about her dreams, which I can’t stand. Also there was a lot about her daughter being in a coma before and after her husband died, which I understand was traumatic but I found boring.
9) Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family, Garrard Conley
Description: The son of a Baptist pastor in small town Arkansas, as a young man Garrard was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality. As a 19-year-old college student, he was outed to his parents and forced to make a life-changing decision: either agree to attend a church-supported conversion therapy program that promised to “cure” him of homosexuality; or risk losing family, friends, and the God he had prayed to every day of his life.
I grew up Baptist (same as the author), and I have an awareness of gay conversion programs and how most/many religions see homosexuality as not just wrong, but sinful. I haven’t identified with a religion for a long time and I try not to dwell on other people’s negative beliefs. I felt bad for Garrard and what he had to go through, but I didn’t like reading about it.