Books Read: April 2022
This month turned cold and rainy, which is a very good thing, we need that rain so very much. But it also meant that I wasn’t out in the garden as I normally am at this time of year, prepping and getting it ready. Don’t worry, I did get out there some, but I haven’t planted a thing yet, still way too chilly. That meant I did a lot of reading and I did a lot of sewing. This month’s reading was both incredibly good and for a few of the books, incredibly frustrating. But as is always the case, no matter my reaction to the book itself, it made me think and that’s why I read.
Cost of Living
I wouldn’t say I totally enjoyed this book of essays about the health care system and a person who struggles with mental health and her interactions with trying to get help, but I did find it enlightening. Emily Maloney ends up with a lot of debt from mental health care she seeks at a young age, and from there she ends up spending a lot of time working in the health care industry directly and around it, which gives her a really unique perspective on how it all works in the US. It’s worth the read even if it isn’t always easy to read.
A young woman is recruited into working for MI5 in the early stages of World War II and ends up transcribing conversations of Nazi sympathizers who are living in England and trying to help the German cause. Kate Atkinson drew inspiration from the archives of that time period, but of course took it in her own direction. The book moves between 1940, 1950, and 1980 and it took some turns in the last third that I honestly didn’t see coming as Juliet deals with both what happened during the war and what happened after it.
The Lincoln Highway
With this book Amor Towles became one of my all time favorite novelists and I think I’ll be reading this book again. Towles style of telling the story through the eyes of the various characters works so well, allowing you to see what’s going on and understand what’s motivating all the main people in the book. But it’s the order and way in which he introduces this that makes it even better. Emmett gets out of juvenile detention and goes home to reunite with his little brother and start a new life together, but it’s thwarted when two of of the boys he was in the detention center show up and as the road trip starts, one thing after another goes wrong. There is more I could say, but the final bit of the book was amazing and I’ve already reread it.
Project Hail Mary
I keep reading Andy Weir’s books because I liked The Martian so much, but I think I need to rethink this strategy as I didn’t enjoy his second book and I didn’t love this book either. Ryland Grace finds himself waking up on what he discovers is a space ship, not remembering his name or why he’s there. As his memories come back, we learn more about his story, while at the same time an alien life form contacts him by flying up beside his ship. From there we’re off and running, but something about this one didn’t work as well for me and I think it’s because it was very much a similar story to The Martian, man alone in dangerous situation, well not quite alone, trying to save himself and this time around earth as well.
The End of Burnout
The first half of this book was good, a great overview of how we look at work and why we think of it the way we do, at least in the US. In the second half Jonathan Malesic shows us examples of people who are avoiding burnout and then he concludes, using the pandemic to help form thoughts about how we can move forward. The second half of the book is so incredibly frustrating, the examples are of monks, nuns, and people who have physical disabilities so they can’t work and there really are no examples of what type of system wide change needs to happen to make this work for everyone. He glosses over some ideas from Senator Sherrod Brown, but nothing about policy or system change is gone into with any depth. And the conclusion? Woooooow is all I can say about that, but I’ll let you read it yourself if you’re so inclined.
I do agree with him, our ideals about work are way off which is why so many people are frustrated and feel disconnected from their jobs so quickly. People have dignity no matter if they work for pay or not, that’s a no brainer. But how we get to a place where everyone is treated with dignity and valued, he falls very short on that score and so I was left frustrated.
I hope this book will help our culture recognize that work doesn’t dignify us or form our character or give our lives purpose. We dignify work, we shape its character, and we give it purpose within our lives. (p 2)
Work simply can’t deliver what we want from it, and the gap between our ideals and our on-the-job reality leads us to exhaustion, cynicism, and despair. (p 3)
Ironically, believing in the ideal of a good life earned though hard work is the biggest obstacle to attaining what it promises. (p 115)
We say we don’t want to burn out, but we also don’t want to give up the system of meaning—not to mention the system of profit making—we have built around the work that causes our burnout. (p 192) (A note on this, it sounds so good, but he never gives any indication of how we’d give up that system, which is…frustrating to me.)
Flora & Ulysses
I recently listend to an interview with Kate DiCamillo and found her really interesting, so that led to reading one of her books. She writes for children, but as is usually the case, the books are so wonderful and full of deep ideas that shine through. In this case Flora sees a squirrel get sucked up by a vacuum cleaner and rescues it. That’s the start of a friendship with a squirrel that is so much more than a squirrel. I laughed out loud and enjoyed this story so much.
Elizabeth Strout has a way of writing that draws me in immediately to her characters and this book was no exception. It’s a bit of a continuation of Lucy Barton’s story and the way in which she currently relates to her first husband. As they work through some shocking news he finds out while also going through a bit of a personal crisis, we also learn more about Lucy and how she thinks about the world, her kids, her marriages, etc. One of the reasons I enjoyed this so much is that I saw a lot of myself in Lucy and it’s fascinating to be inside her thoughts.