The lovely thing about vacations is I get to read so much more! And when that vacation is also Christmas, where I usually receive even more books, well…
This year, between stocking up for long plane trips and receiving some wonderful gifts from family, I ended up devouring 7 books over 2 weeks, which is an average of a book every 2 days. Not my best record (thinking back fondly to the Christmas break when I reread the entire Harry Potter series in 2 days) but a respectable amount!
Here are the books that made up my blizzard of reading at the end of 2018:
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
I want everyone to read this book. I so admire and deeply appreciate Ijeoma Oluo’s willingness to create this work, particularly given that people of color are already frequently required to take on the often exhausting role of educator in racial encounters. Oluo weaves her personal experiences and research together into all the drawn-out, in-depth conversations you wish you knew how to have with people. She presents advice for having these conversations in your own life, reminding the reader that they will fail and be wrong at some point in talking about race. It’s just going to happen. The important thing is that talking about it anyway and learning from those conversations will improve our nation’s systemic racism and give us ways to address other institutionalized forms of oppression.
Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
This was an absolutely gripping read as I followed Johnson’s lyrical, mythical writing in her telling of a mother and daughter and how they both remembered and misremembered a pivotal event in their shared history. It read like modern mythology, which was apt since it is a retelling of a myth. I didn’t know which myth Johnson was dealing with until almost the end of the book, and when all the pieces fell into place, it fit perfectly. I just happen to have a strong dislike for the myth in question! I wished it was something else, since the new association left me with mixed feelings, but the experience of the novel up to that point (and setting aside my personal feelings about its basis) was incredible. A minor plot point about the mother making up words shared only between her and her daughter and how that singular language isolates the daughter later in life was also an interesting concept to consider.
Pandemic 1918: The Story of the Deadliest Influenza in History by Catharine Arnold
I began this cheerful read on the plane back to the Pacific Northwest, probably scaring my seatmate. I’ve been fascinated by the 1918 influenza pandemic ever since a friend had me read Gina Kolata’s book about it in 8th grade. (We even made our parody assignment of “The Night Before Christmas” flu-themed. “‘Twas the year 1918, and all through the world / A virus’s wrath was about to unfurl…”) Arnold gathers firsthand accounts of the flu’s devastating waves throughout the world, demonstrating how the war facilitated both the virus’s spread and research into defeating it. The timeline was difficult to follow, nudging toward Armistice Day and then suddenly jumping backward as we visited another region, but overall it held my interest. The anecdotes from civilians and institutional workers alike were what made this book great for me.
The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson
I have wanted to read the first translation of Homer’s Odyssey by a woman ever since it came out last year, and my wonderful mother-in-law gave it to me for Christmas. I dove in and finished all 24 books in about 24 hours. Wilson not only strives to eliminate the male biases that come with male translators, but she uses plain language because, as she points out in the introduction, flowery antiquarian English is no closer to actual ancient Greek than our modern speech. While I’m not exactly afraid of old-fashioned language, the plainer words definitely made it easier to get into the story – especially since I have a strong apathy toward Odysseus himself. Wilson does not excuse his infidelity while praising Penelope’s opposite behavior; she merely presents the story and its moral ambiguity.
Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics by Jason Porath
I’ve loved Rejected Princesses since discovering Porath’s comics online, so I asked for the book version for Christmas, and my brother-in-law tracked it down. This one was a quick read, since the illustrations are usually a full page and the language itself is so funny and relatable that I just wanted to keep going. The book includes not only historical but mythical and legendary women from various cultures as well. Porath also organizes the stories on a spectrum of “maturity,” from 1 (happy endings, good triumphs over evil) to 5 (the heroine herself is probably morally ambiguous, depressing content, probable death). Aside from learning about intriguing women throughout history and cultures that I was previously unfamiliar with, I appreciated that Porath doesn’t make the women saints or put them on pedestals. He acknowledges their realness and their flaws.
Disney’s Twisted Tales by Liz Braswell
My other brother-in-law also knows me well. Last year he gave me the boxed set of the Disney Villains series, and this year brought books 1-3 of A Twisted Tale. These books imagine what might have happened if a key plot point in a Disney story had gone a different way. In this case, Aladdin never gets the lamp from Jafar, Aurora doesn’t wake up when Phillip kisses her, and Belle’s mother was the Enchantress who cursed the Beast. These were intriguing – and also extremely violent. Far more Grimm than Disney usually gets. Surprisingly, the Beauty and the Beast story was not my favorite, but I loved the new take on Sleeping Beauty. I’m always up for dark fairytales, so these were fun for me.