Books Read in September 2018

I read seven books in September (one was an audiobook), which brings my 2018 total to 66.

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


1) The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, Kate Moore

Description: Moore illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

This book was super interesting but also appalling. I had no idea the commercial use of radium was so widespread in the early 1900s, nor that many women who worked with it developed radium poisoning. The sickness took many forms and in every single one of those cases, the companies fought not to be held accountable.

A common malady of women who dipped radium-laced paintbrushes in their lips to keep the bristles pointed? It led to their teeth falling out, the bones in their mouth and jaw slowly eaten away by the radium, and even pieces of their jaw being exposed and falling apart. In others, the radium landed in other parts of the body, a myriad of health problems that stymied doctors and dentists, and often led to painful deaths.

This book illustrates the lengths companies will take to avoid paying compensation, and highlights the women involved, showing how their fight to hold the radium companies accountable led to better labor laws in the United States.


2) From the Corner of the Oval: A Memoir, Beck Dorey-Stein

Description: In 2012, Beck was just scraping by in DC when a posting on Craigslist landed her, improbably, in the Oval Office as one of Barack Obama’s stenographers. The ultimate DC outsider, she joined the elite team who accompanied the president wherever he went, recorder and mic in hand.

There were parts of this book I enjoyed, like learning the role of a White House stenographer. Although it’s a pretty simple job, it gives that person a lot of access to high-level officials and government staff. What I didn’t like was the major story arc being Beck’s love life, and her infatuation with her on again / off again sex buddy. If the book had focused more on her job and the travel she got to do, I would have enjoyed it much more.

3) Small Fry: A Memoir, Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Description: This is a poignant story of a childhood spent between two imperfect but extraordinary homes. Scrappy, wise, and funny, young Lisa is an unforgettable guide through her parents’ fascinating and disparate worlds.

I learned some interesting tidbits about Lisa’s life growing up with Steve Jobs as a father, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it.

4) Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda’s Cycling Team, Tim Lewis

Description: This is the true story of four men determined to rebuild the hopes of a broken nation. In a land desperate for heroes, they confront impossible odds as they struggle to put an upstart cycling team on the map — and find redemption in the eyes of the world.

I have a recent interest in Rwanda because I’m traveling there for work in November. (Surprise! Let’s see how many people notice this tidbit hidden in the middle of a standard book review post.)

I’ve read genocide-related books about Rwanda over the years, and this book covers some of that history, but the bigger emphasis is on how they got a cycling program off the ground. Some parts were inspiring, but I struggled to stay interested in other sections. I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it because I think few people would be interested in a book that highlights biking in an African country.

5) Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel, Maria Semple

Description: A novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

You guys know I’m not a big fiction reader, so this probably seems out of character. I actually read this book because my friend Jaclyn has a book club and this was the September selection. But then I didn’t get to attend the meeting because it took place two days before I left the country for a two-week European vacation and I was crazy busy at work. Whomp.

Jaclyn loves this book and has read it multiples times. In her opinion, “It reads as a light, whimsical and slightly ridiculous book, but the more you sit with it, the more you find in it.” If you enjoy light fictional reads, please take her advice and read the book.

For those who read mostly nonfiction, you would probably rate it as Okay, as I’m doing now. I found myself getting impatient with parts of the book I found silly, or that didn’t appear to move the narrative along.

When I read fiction, I often find myself thinking, “Why am I bothering to read this if the story isn’t true?” I know those of you who love fiction won’t identify with that.

Not Recommended

6) White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing, Gail Lukasik

Description: This is the story of Gail’s mother’s passing as white, Gail’s struggle with the shame of her mother’s choice, and her subsequent journey of self-discovery and redemption.

This started off okay, and I liked some of the parts about the author’s mother, but unfortunately there were exhaustive details on other members of her family that I didn’t care anything about. The author is obviously interested in her genealogy, which makes sense, but I don’t know her and I don’t care.

7) Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, Esther Perel

Description: One of the world’s most respected voices on erotic intelligence, Perel offers a bold new take on intimacy. Here, she invites us to explore the paradoxical union of domesticity and sexual desire.

I could relate to some of the stuff she wrote about, but I didn’t find any useful takeaways.

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