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« February, 2017 »
The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances

I really like reading about people with non-traditional approaches to exercise. Inman was a fat kid and lives in some sort of crazy fear of becoming a huge blerching mess again. Running a lot lets him eat what he wants ( a truly terrible assortment of food if he is to be believed) and this is how he wants it. He has advice which may or may not work for you and a lot of funny anecdotes and images to go along with them. If you have a complicated relationship with exercise, you will like this.

How the other half lives

This was a hard book to get through. The combination of the abject poverty and terrible circumstances that befell immigrants to New York in the turn of the last century combined with Riis’s weird brand of racism (maybe it was more appropriate at the time, it’s terribly not appropriate now) made a lot of this slow going. Riis was a social reformer and his story which is recounted in the long intro by David Leviatin, puts a lot of his work into a social context. This is helpful for reading the rest of it. My previous exposure to Riis was mostly just seeing his photos and hearing “He helped make things better.” Getting at the nuance of how some of this social change happened was an interesting back story, as well as hearing about the institutionalized racism and sexism that was prevalent even then (Riis recounts how Black tenement dwellers will pay more money for the same apartment as other lodgers). Glad I read this, especially in today’s uncertain times, but it was and remains a difficult read.

Houdini: The Handcuff King

A great glimpse into one small episode from Houdini’s life which tries to sum up a lot of the complex aspects of the man’s life. Really enjoyable and not just because there are a lot of shots of him hanging out in his underwear.

Bird in a Cage

This is a poignant and well-told story about the life of the author’s grandmother and, by extension, the life of the entire family around her. Roher tells this story in a series of vignettes that jump around between her elderly incapacitated grandmother and the family caring for her, and flashbacks that cover the grandmother’s entire life. Many of them center around the family island where they would get together in the summertimes and it’s a nice consistent way of threading the larger story together.

No You Can’t Touch My Hair

Books that are biographical by humorists are sometimes not as funny as books by non-comedians who are humor writers. I really enjoyed Robinson’s book but I felt like sometimes she was going for stuff which would work in stand-up but which didn’t work as well in writing. That said this book is great I enjoyed her informal style, a lot of the pieces she did about black hair icons and letters to her young niece were really standouts. Listening to someone talk about race from a personal perspective from within an industry you only know from the outside is really interesting.

Elegy for Eddie

Another good book in the series. This one deals with a lot of interesting issues of poverty as well as the encroaching awfulness about what is up with the Nazis. The main character seems to be learning some things about herself and even though some of her relationship stuff seems like it may be getting a little wrapped up in a too-pat fashion, I enjoyed this book more than the one which preceded it.

Thoreau at Walden

Surprised I’ve never put anything from John P on this booklist before since I’ve always been a fan of his work. This is a short set of vignettes involving Thoreau taking his words more or less verbatim (and noting where liberties were taken). It takes some of his choice quotations and little bits from his book Walden and illustrates them. As someone who grew up around Concord I liked seeing the settings and just the love of that part of the natural world. Porcellino did a good job not shying away from Thoreau’s relative privilege (and semi-weirdness) while also getting across why people found his words so compelling.

A Lesson in Secrets

Another in the series. I enjoyed it since it seemed to “move the plot along” both in terms of Maisie’s development but also in terms of the atmosphere of the world around her in terms of encroaching Nazism and people’s feelings about it. There’s also the subtext about the role of pacifism or dissent in this environment as well. A thoughtful novel.