May Reads

Want to see my reads from last month? Of course you do.

Post War

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Part 1: Post-War 1953-1971) (2005) by Tony Judt

What you need to know: Like I said last month, this book is advanced (collegiate level), so some base knowledge of World War II and its aftermath is necessary. This is the best wide-scope book on contemporary history in existence.

 I loved Part 2 even more than Part 1 (you can see what I thought of Part 1 and the book in general in my April Reads post). As for Part 2, it was just as much a page turner as the beginning of the book. I love that Judt doesn’t leave Eastern Europe out and also tries to remove as much bias as possible. He doesn’t just look at politics; he includes social history as well.

This section of the book really gave a clear picture of how WWII effected Europe and how the different countries rebuilt in the wake of it.

 It was also really interesting to read about the beginnings of the Cold War from a European perspective. Sympathy for Communism wasn’t persecuted in European countries as it was in the US (see: McCarthyism). Judt looks at both Western and European economies critically, investigating which systems worked (or didn’t) rather than the moral benefits of the ideology behind the systems. It is also interesting to see how the Welfare State developed in Europe and why.

And now for a quote: “But none of these assumptions and miscalculations was clear at the time, and politicians and generals proceeded as best they could on the basis of limited information and past precedent.” If only all history books were written like this.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994) by Anne Lamott

What you need to know: This isn’t your average book on writing. It is full of personal advise and anecdotes; you can tell Lamott was doing everything she could to make the book as much like her workshops as possible.

 I don’t know if this book is going to help me much with editing (I’m working on editing my first book manuscript right now), but it did inspire me to write. Which is amazing. There are some really cool prompts. It was actually hard to read, because I’d put the book down constantly to go write for the rest of the night in the middle of reading a chapter. This is more than I have to say for a lot of the other books on writing; I usually skip the prompts (which are generally tacked on the the end of chapters). I think that this book could be useful not only for aspiring novelists, short story writers, and poets, but for bloggers as well.

And now for a quote: “Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t- and, in fact, you’re not supposed to- know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.”

The Hedgehog: An Owner’s Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet (1997) by Dawn Wrobel

What you need to know: If you have a hedgehog, like we do, then this book will be pretty darn helpful for you.

Though we’ve had our little Hedgie for a year and a half, we just picked up this book. We researched Hedgehog care on-line, but there was a ton of information in this book that we never found round the ‘net. We’re going to try potty training her next week. That will make life easier.

And now for a quote:“Because hedgehogs are naturally inquisitive, they are often depicted as whimsical figures in children’s stories.”

The Daughter of Time (1951) by Josephine Tey

What you need to know: This book is a strange sort of a mystery. There is no real-time action whatsoever; the characters are instead trying to figure out the truth behind a historical myth.

The historical myth part was interesting. I don’t want to give anything away, but it seems to me that the author just really wanted to uncover the historical myth and came up with a weak sauce plot as an excuse to dig it up. The main character is weakly developed (so are the side characters), but the book is worth reading anyway.

Also, the royals got around. It has to be really difficult to learn European history, because the flow charts of the royal families and aristocracy are super confusing. So many illegitimate children. Which is funny, because I generally associate royalty with propriety. Shows how much I know. Not that I blame them. If I was forced to marry my distant cousin from another country, I’d probably take a mistress too.

And now for a quote:“The point is that every single man who was there knows that the story is nonsense, and yet it has never been contradicted… It is a completely untrue story grown to legend while the men who knew it to be untrue looked on and said nothing.”

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004) by David Sedaris

What you need to know: So so funny, brutally honest about the most personal of memories, and full of wit.

It’s so good that a) I bought it after reading a few pages in the bookstore even after promising myself to buy no more books until I’ve read all the ones I have in the house. b) I read it the day after bringing it home. c) I’m going to further break my rules by buying everything else Sederis has ever written over the summer.

The book is a memoir filled seemingly normal short stories about Sederis and his family. But normal life is anything but ordinary. It’s weird, isn’t it? If we’re being honest.

Sederis is a more mature Chuck Palahnuik. Or, rather, Palahnuik is an immature Sederis. Or something.

I’m not going to include a quote on this one, because it’s not really quotable. You have to read a whole story to get the full effect. To get a taste of his humor, listen to a clip of him reading live here.

Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen

What you need to know: Don’t read the back cover. It gives away half of the darn book (I hate that).

This book is more about money than it is about romance. Even though it seems like the novel is about two sisters looking for love who are very different (one is ruled by passion and the other reason), I think it really all boils down to minding your manners in public and expectations of female behavior. I’m glad I’m a woman in this century, people. I don’t understand how women read books like these and long for the romance of this era. I’d rather be a cow.

Pretty much the whole book is characters lying to other characters to be polite. Affirmation as to why I’m typcially crass in real life.

Oh, and I think it is weird that the servants aren’t characters. They talk about having servants (i.e. how many they need/ can afford), but they aren’t ever seen in the action of the story. This is in contrast to books like Wuthering Heights, in which the narrator is a servant.

And now for a quote:“She was very far from wishing to dwell on her own feelings or to represent herself as suffering much, any otherwise than as the self-command she had practised since her first knowledge of Edward’s engagement might suggest a hint of what was practicable to Marianne. Her narration was clear and simple; and though it could not be given without emotion, it was not accompanied by violent agitation nor impetuous grief. That belonged rather to the hearer, for Marianne listened with horror and cried excessively.”

May Reads

Have you read any of these? What did you think? And what are you reading lately?