Saturday, October 27, 2018

Lethal White (by Robert Galbraith)

My favorite Cormoran Strike book so far!

I will confess that I'm never as interested in the mystery as in the relationship between Strike and Robin, which played itself out so deliciously in this book. But I did enjoy the mystery in this case too! In fact I didn't mind the book being overly long-winded (it's 650 pages long) because I was engrossed in the details and the characters.

Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) does a great job with tiny scenes and details (upper crust people have names like Fizzy and Torquil, it's delightful) and kept me engrossed while I was waiting for the next interaction between the two colleagues.

One thing I will say is that Matthew was always hateable but in this book he's a caricature. (Spoilers ahead; RSS readers skip to the next paragraph) I really wanted Robin to come to the realization that she didn't love him even if he wasn't a complete asshole. But of course he has to cross the line and she can leave with a clear conscience. It's not always that simple and I wished the book had reflected that. On the other hand, her PTSD and anxiety are treated with the nuance missing from the Matthew storyline.

The cliffhanger at the end of book three was a killer, and we had to wait a long time for book four, so I'm glad we're left on a less tense relationship moment. I still can't wait for book five, though! Mostly to see what happens next with Strike and Robin....

(I do so love Robin.)

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Shirley, Goodness and Mercy (by Chris van Wyk)

One of the categories of the Read Harder Challenge this year was books set in one of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). I decided I wanted to read about South Africa, since my mother spent her childhood (ages 2-11) there. 

It is surprisingly hard to find South African literature. Born a Crime is still on my list, but I was attracted to van Wyk's memoir because he grew up in the 60s, in a township like my mother. I assumed from his last name that he was Dutch and white, and I was interested in that perspective for obvious reasons. But I learned a lot from the get-go, first off that there were three classes -- white, coloured, and black. Coloured people, like van Wyk, had mixed ancestry and was considered "coloured."

I'm glad I read it through his perspective, which jumps back and forth with individual stories, some about his family and growing up, some humorous, some about apartheid in the background, and some with apartheid front and center, particularly when he becomes older and is an author and an activist. Some of his poems are included throughout, which span from personal to political. And the idea that the first election in which non-whites could vote was in 1994, so recent, really brings it into perspective.

I was sad to read that van Wyk died a few years ago and really loved his book. I learned more about apartheid than I'd ever known before, and am left wanting to learn more and talk to my mother more about her experiences there. 

A side note, I learned the word kaffir, which was a derogatory term for blacks in South Africa. At the same time, my mother found an old photo album of my grandmother's, and in it is a picture of her smiling "kaffirmaid."  I remember conversations with my grandmother about her experiences (after all, she was an adult and understood much more about what was going on) but she died almost 20 years ago.  What I wouldn't give to have another one of those conversations with her today -- for so many reasons.

Next: Born a Crime, and any non-fiction books about apartheid you can recommend!

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Monday, October 15, 2018

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook (by Edmund Bourne)

One of my new year's resolutions this year was to work my way through this highly recommended book. I see a therapist for anxiety, but he's a Freudian, and I am super goal oriented so was interested in reading about a more cognitive behavioral approach.

I found this book super useful. I am shocked at how well the techniques have worked for addressing my injection phobia.  I still am nervous about it and still took half a Xanax before my flu shot, but it is a marked improvement. And I haven't even done full-on exposure therapy, just "let the anxiety wash over you and get used to it." It has helped!

I also loved the part where I had to get into different "voices" in my head like the Victim and the Critic, and write out all the things "they" tell me about myself. Then I wrote counterstatements that I turned into affirmations. I use an affirmation app on my phone to display the affirmations daily so I can read through them. Affirmations = also super great!

On the not-so-great side is the medical quackery (the nutrition chapter was like carrying on a conversation with a random customer in our local hippie vitamin store) and the attitude towards weight. (You should be able to "overcome" anxiety the way you "overcome" obesity -- luckily the book had enough "be kind to yourself" messaging to override the shame of that statement.)

Overall, very glad I stuck with it and will have to go back and re-read all my notes and dog-ears. I'm still working through some of the exercises, too.  With some caveats about the nutrition and body stuff... recommended.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Inkheart (by Cornelia Funke)

I would not have finished this if not for the Read Harder Challenge and its "genre fiction in translation" category.  This is the first book in a well-regarded trilogy by German writer Cornelia Funke, about a world where those with talent can read characters into and out of books. 12-year-old Meggie has a father who has this talent, he's on the run from characters he has released from books, and adventure ensues.

The main issue I had with this book: the main villains. We are told they are is awful and sadistic, and love inflicting pain on people. This group captures our heroes -- including six different people and an animal -- on two separate occasions, and does literally nothing to harm them. The heroes even get to share rooms. After about a third of the novel you realize that there are no stakes, because nothing actually bad is ever going to happen. So when the heroes escape and get recaptured and escape again and get recaptured, it's not only that the novel is going in plot circles, it's that there's no tension whatsoever.

Also the world of the titular novel Inkheart, which is supposed to be so great, is not really well-drawn or interesting. The villains are boring. The world is boring.

People love this book and this series, but it is emphatically Not For Me and I was glad to be done with it.

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