Book Review: “The Road to Little Dribbling” by Bill Bryson

All the preparations for Little Baby’s arrival have been putting me on edge, so I’m thankful for books that help me unwind and make me laugh. Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain was one of those books.

Bryson was born and raised in Iowa. He married an English woman, and has been living in England for years now, where they raised all their children. His love for England and understanding and appreciation of what it means to be an American, made this book all the more enjoyable for me, especially when he discussed differences in our cultures.

I didn’t know this was a sequel to his book, Notes from a Small Island until I had already started reading. I kept going, figuring that, since it was a travel book, it wouldn’t make a difference. Now that I’m done, I wish I had stopped and read the first one first. Some of the areas he visited were revisits from the first book. It would have been interesting to have a deeper understanding of how the places had changed between the publishing dates of 1995 and 2015. He give plenty of context whenever he discussed changes, so there was no confusion, but I still felt I was missing out on something by reading the second one first.

That aside, everything else about this book was lovely. Bryson has a witty and snarky sense of humor that turns almost all of his interactions with people into laugh-out-loud anecdotes. I listened to this as an audio book, and a few times in the beginning I zoned out, until suddenly I was snapped back into reality when Bryson said something rude or absurd to a shop attendant. Just as I thought, I can’t believe he had the guts to say that he would suddenly admit that he only thought the thing, which meant that the majority of the interaction was all made up. This happened multiple times throughout the book, and seriously, sometimes it was so funny that I had to cover my mouth to keep myself from exploding with laughter in a public place. I mean, haven’t we all been there? That torn feeling of I-really-want-to-tell-you-off-but-it-would-be-rude. I sympathized while I smiled.

By the end of the book I was just in love with his writing style, a combination of history and humor, all built around lovely descriptions of places I’ve never been. Half way through the book, I was adding most of his other books to my Goodreads “to-read” list and checking my library to see which ones they had copies of. Definitely one of my new favorite authors.

Book Review: “The Tiger Rising” by Kate DiCamillo

There have been a lot of healthy learning curves in my time spent living with my in-laws.   One that still continues to baffle me is the reading habits of my eleven-year-old sister-in-law. Partly because I am her ride to the library and partly because I read in virtually every genre and age group, she sometimes asks me for book recommendations. Some days I’ll try to help, others I’ll just shrug and say, “I have no idea.” I can never tell what’s appropriate for her or what will make her upset for one reason or another.

What I believe I’ve learned is that you can’t truly know what is appropriate for someone else’s kid. I live in the same house as her, but I can’t gage from one book to the next how much she’s matured or what content she can handle. Therefore, I ask that you please take this into consideration with my recommendation on the book below.

Personally, I love it when MG authors aren’t afraid to deal with hard topics. I especially love it when they do it in a way that is both wise and tender, so that younger readers can metabolize the depth of the themes they’re dealing with. From what I’ve read of her work, this is one of Kate DiCamillo’s talents, and her book The Tiger Rising is a perfect example of this. It is a short read, only 128 pages, which I actually think is one aspect of it that makes it easier to digest.

The story centers around a young boy and girl who discover a caged tiger. This becomes a metaphor for the struggles in both their lives, that of repressed anger and sadness. This book is about dealing with immense loss. Along with that, it also contains realistic portrayals of bullying and a heartbreakingly beautiful portrait of a family living in a motel, barely making their way. It is not a light bubbly read. It’s not intended to be. Yet I think it excellently done.

I have seen some reviewers condemning it because it’s too sad or heavy. To me, what makes this a worthy read even for a younger audience is the tactful yet truthful way the hard issues are addressed. There should be space in children’s reading experience for books that show them how other people have to live. It helps them develop empathy for those around them. For example, say that a bully is made to read this book by a parent or a teacher, seeing the pain that the tormenters cause to the main characters might prick their conscience about their own behavior. Reading, if the writing is good, forces you into the headspace of another person as a necessary part of the experience. There are even studies that show reading good literature improves a persons ability to empathize.

Also, let’s not forget that not all children lead charmed existences. Life’s ugliness does not pass over you because of age. If the child is experiencing a similar tragedy to the characters, it gives the child hope to read the story, not pain. They can say, “if someone I don’t know could write about a kid just like me, than I’m not alone.” That’s why truth in writing is so important.  And, solong as it’s done on a level that they understand and can cope with, is it ever too early to preach truth to a child?

Only you know when and if your child is ready for certain content. Personally, I loved this book and was not at all uncomfortable with its target audience, as I have been with other YA/MG books I’ve read. Kate DiCamillo did justice to a lot of heavy themes with how she gently unfolded the tale. It read like crawling into the lap of a protective loved one. Her words brushed the hair from my forehead, and when I closed the book my heart felt foremost this message, “life can be ugly, but remember child, you’re not alone.”

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Book Review: Ina May Gaskin vs. Milli Hill

With Little Baby constantly reminding me of her imminent arrival by hearty kicks and punches, it makes sense that I’d devote a portion of my summer reading list to books on parenting and childbirth.

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Us having a drink at 32 weeks



The first book I tried was one I’d been encouraged to read by several sources. I was even handed a free copy of it on my first visit to the midwives, but ended up giving it back because I already had a copy sitting on my bedside table at home. It was Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin.

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I actually purchased my copy of this book before I even got pregnant. As someone who was terrified of the process of pregnancy and labor, I’d seen and read many places that it was important to fill my mind with positive birth stories to combat my negative notions. This book was recommended so consistently that I bought myself a copy and eagerly began to read, hoping it would allay my fears when I finally got my positive pregnancy test.

The first half of the book is all personal birth stories from women that gave birth on “the Farm” which is the birthing center that Gaskin set up. They are meant to encourage and inspire women towards the beauty and bliss of natural home births with a midwife. But for me, these “positive birth stories” were completely ineffectual. It seemed like many of these women had some kind of complication, some nearly emergent complication, going on during their labor. They all ended up giving birth to happy healthy babies without medical intervention. That, I believe, was the point of them telling their stories. Look what I did without a doctor. I mean, it was touch and go for a while, but it was all fine! Yes. Right. Lovely! But instead of reassuring me, these stories just set me on edge and gave me a longer list of “what ifs” for my still unknown labor and delivery story. *shakes head* I call that a fail at positive birth stories.

Gaskin’s book read to me like a three hundred page advertisement for why you must have a home birth with a midwife and avoid hospitals and doctors. I skipped over the chapters at the end that warned me about the probably hidden mortality statistics for pregnant women giving birth in hospitals. I needed encouragement, not more reasons to fear. And while I highly respect Gaskin for the trail she blazed promoting better childbirth options in this country, I really could have done without reading her book. Especially when taken in conjunction with another book I read, The Positive Birth Book written by Milli Hill.

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This book, seriously, was an absolute sleep-saver for me! It opened up with the author explaining how desperately she wanted to be pregnant, but how utterly terrified she was once she saw the positive pregnancy test. Everything about her emotional state echoed mine. She compared it to sky diving. You’re in the airplane, looking down over the distant ground, and you know you have to jump eventually; it’s too late to turn back. You feel guilty for telling people you’re terrified now that you’re actually pregnant. You’re supposed to be happy. Meanwhile, everyone is laughing themselves silly for the look on your face after they’ve told you about all the horrors that await you through pregnancy into parenthood.

This inspired Hill to start The Positive Birth Movement out of which grew her book. It walks through all the stages of labor, the most common complications, the ins and outs of cesareans, and tips on adjusting to the early days postpartum. All of it was told with an upbeat candor that truly brought peace to my thudding heart. This could happen, but this is why it will still be okay. 

Another aspect of the book that I loved was how she shied away from the common idea of 3 stages in labor. She described it in 14 stages to make it all as clear as possible, a method I found a lot more beneficial than how Gaskin addressed it in the second half of her book. She also mathematically broke down the average percentage of time that most women are actually in terrible pain during natural childbirth. The average woman is in labor 8 hours and only 23% of that time is spent having contractions. Even if I don’t turn out to be average, just reading that lessened my fear of labor by leaps and bounds.

The whole of that book had that effect on me. I loved it, and if I could recommend any one birth book to a new mother, it would absofrigginlutely be this one.

Book Review: “The Atlantic Sound” by Caryl Phillips

This was another book I read for my Readings in Global Literature class last semester. This one isn’t a novel. It’s part travel, part history book, and covers several trips the author made in order to study the African diaspora and look for global community among blacks.

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Even if that topic is of no interest to you, the historical sections were fascinating. One of them went deep into the roots of Liverpool, England to discuss its key role in the slave trade, as well as more current issues of race within the community. The other was about Charleston, South Carolina and the life of District Judge J. Waties Waring. Both of these sections were completely new history to me, and Phillip’s way of telling them was both refreshing and honest.

Another part of the narrative that I found refreshing and honest, was the immigration story of Phillips’ guide in Ghana during Panafest. Phillips almost tells the story twice, and by this challenges the classic stereotypical narrative people often hear or imagine once you discover someone has been deported from a country or denied a visa.

Many of my classmates found Phillips’ tone overly negative. What I saw in him was a skepticism of the idea that the entirety of who we are is to be found in our ancestral roots. But this doesn’t mean he’s completely anti the idea of seeking out your historical origins. He describes things very cynically at times, but he also places against that cynicism the actions of some of the members of the diaspora that he encounters. If you’re paying attention you can see him tracing the community among them. Even if you don’t agree with his ultimate analysis of global community, his book is a fascinating study of the results of the transatlantic slave trade on the black diaspora.

Phillips’ writing is lovely, but I wouldn’t necessarily call this book an easy read. It was dense, though not heavy, and as much as I adored it, the reading itself was slow going. The most rewarding part was the last chapter and the epilogue. Something changed with his writing style and it became like poetry. It happened slowly and subtly. I looked back and couldn’t tell where it even started. By the time I got to the very last paragraph of the book I just didn’t want it to end, the writing was just so beautiful.

I will definitely be reading more of Phillips’ work in the future. He appealed to me with the way his writing was both beautiful and intellectually stimulating.

Book Review: “Sold” by Patricia McCormick

This book. Just wow.

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It’s poetry. Literally. The whole book is a series of poems all telling the story of Lakshmi, a 13 year old girl from Nepal who is sold into prostitution.

It won’t be any surprise when I say that this book was hard to read. It’s Young Adult and not atrociously graphic, but it’s well written enough that it nearly shattered me. I barely slept after I finished it, because it made me feel so powerless. The author went to India and Nepal to interview girls who were saved from child slavery and sex trafficking. It didn’t matter that Lakshmi’s story was fiction; the whole book just feels far too real. It made me feel miserably uncomfortable and helpless, like when you get an alert on your mobile that there has been some global catastrophe, and you know that there is little you personally can do to help.

I think that telling this story through poetry was especially effective, because of the vivid visual nature of poetry. Yes, this can also be accomplished through prose, but I wonder then if the story would have needed a lot more excess description of movement and action. In poems everything is cut back to sensations, sights, smells, sounds, and feelings. This made the book able to talk about something as horribly graphic as child brothels by preserving the essentials and making the trauma palpable.

All I could think was, this girl is only thirteen. This girl is only thirteen.

This book meant a lot to me. It was one of those books that forces your eyes open, drags you from your comfortable life, and screams, “Don’t waste your life. People are suffering. This is real.” These are the kinds of books that deserve medals and awards, because they bring awareness to the world about ugly things. If you can stomach the ugly, read this book.

I spent a day or two looking for organizations that work to stop sex trafficking in Nepal and India. I have placed two links below if you want to read up on the work they do, or donate to help.

World Vision
MountainChild

 

Book Review: “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

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My “Readings in Global Literature” class was not at all what I expected it to be. The literature chosen for class focused mostly on the transatlantic slave trade. There is nothing wrong with this at all, and I learned so much, but when I read the course description I thought we would be reading novels from all around the world. I hoped to read a book from China or India, then maybe some from Russia or the Middle East. Basically anything but American or European, which is what most of the literature courses seem to concentrate on.

This was my only complaint with the course. Otherwise, the professor was phenomenal, and we read several wonderful books. One of my favorites was the novel Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. The title apparently comes from an old African-American belief that when they died their souls would journey across the ocean, back to their homeland of Africa. The author herself was born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, and says that the character Marjorie has very similar experiences to herself. Which is interesting to know once you get to her chapter and the chapter of Marcus at the end of the book.

In my opinion, Homegoing is epic. I say this because the purpose of the novel is to try and trace the effects of the slave trade across generations, starting back in the 1700’s all the way to present day. Gyasi does this by following the story of two half sisters born in Ghana. One is sold into slavery, one remains in Ghana.

Each chapter is almost like a short story. A portion of a character’s life is relayed, giving key information about the family and about important events regarding slavery during that time period. The next chapter switches to the other branch of the family, so you go from Ghana to the United States and back to Ghana.

In some ways, this could be a bit confusing. Often times you meet a character once then see very little to nothing of them ever again. I did find myself referring back to the family tree at the opening of the book, just so I could gage where I was at generationally, but it helped that any chapter that takes place in the United States is one sister’s descendants, and the others are still living in Ghana. Gyasi also weaves in recurring themes of fire and water, which help to tie the story together.

The scope of the story is just incredible. It’s so ambitious, to try and condense so much history into one novel, but I truly think that the author did an excellent job. I’ve read some reviews that remark on how her characters have “all the things” happen to them just to make reference to important historical events, but personally this did not bother me. I liked that it was there to remind you that these things did happen to real people. It made the story all the more compelling to me in a historical sense.

I found this book absolutely breathtaking. Every chapter, every generation that brought me closer to present day had me more and more wrapped up in the story. I didn’t feel disconnected at all from the geographical or character jumps. I just wanted to see how the author was going to tie it all together. Her prose is pretty straightforward, except for now and again she breaks into a kind of poetry that always made me stop and reread the sentence.

Definitely one of my favorite reads this semester.

March Reading Summary

My blogposts tend to be pretty random in content. I started with a ton of poetry which slowly morphed into a sort of random-anecdotes-from-my-life thing. I sometimes think I blog mostly just to exercise my writing muscles, and I’m thankful for anybody who takes the time to read my random blatherings.

With Little Baby on the way, and only one year of school left, I find myself frequently considering what I want to do with my post-school time. This has left me wondering if I might not want to refocus my content hereabouts.

One of the things I’ve been toying with is posting more book reviews. I read a lot, and my taste in books is wide ranged and random, so I’m not sure this is my best idea. But with books being one of the only things I know, I figure blogging about my opinions regarding them can’t be any more yawn worthy than the other stuffs that I post here.

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To that end, I’ve decided to do a recap of all the books I read in March. It was a light kind of month as I still had a ton of school work to do, but near the end I had a few pregnancy induced sleepless nights that I devoted to reading.

  1. Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo

urlThis book was one of the novels I had to read for school this semester. While I appreciated Evaristo’s storytelling abilities, I struggled to enjoy this book. It is a “what-if” dystopian satire that turns the transatlantic slave trade on its head: Africans have enslaved white Europeans. The story is about Doris, a white slave, and her attempts to escape her black masters.

After discussion in the classroom, I was able to appreciate Evaristo’s aims in this rewrite of history. By flipping the familiar, she is trying to show how racial bias has warped our thinking in so many ways. She even reinvents the map of the world, shifting different countries above and below the equator. And while I understand what she’s doing, and believe she does it well, I think, for me, I would much rather read a non-satyrical account of slavery or a true life slave narrative. But, all in all, well written and if the idea piques your interest, I’d say dive right in.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

2. Passing by Nella Larsen

url-1This is another novel I had to read for school this semester. This one I loved. Larsen’s writing style is so poised, gentle, straightforward, and beautiful. The story is about Irene and Claire, two black women from Chicago now living in Harlem during the 1920’s. The story is dark and beautiful and deals with issues of race, racism, and jealousy. It’s also a short read, the kind of book I like to take to the beach because I know I can finish before it’s time to go home. I definitely recommend it for Larsen’s poignant themes and lovely writing abilities.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

4. Twitter: The Comic by Mike Rosenthal

url-2This one was a just for fun quick comic that I stumbled across while at the library. Rosenthal collected a bunch of goofy tweets and began to illustrate them. His tumbler account got popular, leading to this collection in this book. It was nice to flip through as a cool down after school one day. It made me chuckle. For a taste, you can find Rosenthal’s tumbler here.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

5. Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

url-4Yet another book I read for one of my classes. This book is the coming of age story of a young girl in Antigua. It heavily discusses the relationship between the girl and her mother, and all the complications it develops as the girl’s childhood fades into adulthood. Kincaid’s writing style was straightforward, but the story itself had layers of imagery within it that deepened the themes to a satisfying level. It was also a short easy read, another book I’d happily take to the beach.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

6. My Point…And I Do Have One by Ellen DeGeneres

url-5OH MY GOSH! This woman is hilarious. Really. I read Seriously…I’m Kidding a few years ago, and she’s just so freakin’ funny. The book has no plot or anything. It’s just chapter after chapter of hilarious anecdotes and stories about her life, some of which you know have to be majorly exaggerated for comic effect. I read multiple chapters of this aloud to my husband and my brother-in-law and we were all cry-laughing at it. Seriously, if you need a pick-me-up then pick this one up.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

7. Welcome to Dead House by R. L. Stine (Goosebumps, #1)

url-7This series was excessively popular when I was a child. I never read any, one: because I didn’t enjoy horror back then (even the covers freaked me out) and two: if I’d tried to take one out of the library my parents probably would have slapped it from my hands and called the elders over to pray the demons out of me.

It was about what I expected, a creepy book for kids with kind of light corny humor interspersed throughout. The writing was strictly meh, but typical of a lot of serial books aimed at elementary/middle schoolers. Now that I’ve satisfied my curiosity, I feel no urge to ever read something by Stine again.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

8. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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This has been on my to-read list for a while, so when it popped up as required reading for my Harlem Renaissance class I was super excited. This was one of those classics that absolutely lived up to the hype. Hurston’s story of Janie’s search for self revelation was deep and beautiful, full of breathtaking prose and delicious poetical imagery. Please, do yourself a favor, if you haven’t read this, DO IT!

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

That more or less finishes out March, except for my favorite read which I’m saving out to write up a separate review for. Hope I tickled the fancy of a few book nerds out there, and maybe gave you a title or two to check out.

Cheers!