Saturday, April 10, 2010

50 Books in a Year

Every year on my birthday, I start a new list of books with the goal of reading 50 books in the year. This past year, I finally reached my goal...just barely! I finished my 50th book ON my birthday! So here is where I'll keep this year's list. You can click the links for the 2009, 2008 and 2007 book lists.

Past Reading
30 books
8,222 pages

37 books
14,326 pages

41.5 books
15,072 pages

50 books
16,199 pages

1) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I know this is supposed to be the hot new series, but I really didn't think it was worth reading. You start out with a couple hundred pages of Swedish names (sorry, but hard to keep all those straight) and background political/economic info. Throw a brutal, graphic, unnecessary rape scene into the middle, and then the very end of the book finally gets good. Actually, the ending was good enough to almost make me think about picking up the next book, but the beginning was so incredibly miserable (and I heard the next one has a slow start too) that I just can't bring myself to do it. (600 pages)

2)Nights in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks. I'm not a big Nicholas Sparks fan and this was a typical Nicholas Sparks book, so there ya go. Love story following by impossibly sad ending. The main couple in this one is an older, divorced woman and man. They meet by chance and get a weekend together. (256 pages)

3)Cinderella Man by Marc Cerasini. This was one of the books available on the book shelf at a recent Country Inn and Suites stay (love that hotel!!). It's been a fun read about a depression era boxer named Jim Braddock. I'd like to see the movie now that I've read the book. (288 pages)

4)Floating in My Mother's Palm by Ursula Hegi. I picked this up at a garage sale, because I had already read another book by Ursula Hegi, Stones from the River. This book was written before Stones from the River, but has a lot of the same characters and there is overlap. The book is set in post WWII Germany and told from the point of view of a schoolgirl. It's a very enjoyable read, but there's not over-arching plot line, it's just a collection of stories about the town and the people in it. (187 pages)

5)The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank. This was a book club pick. You follow the narrator from her teenage years up to adulthood and see her lessons, and failures, in love. While it made sense, it really irked me that the writing style was so choppy and immature in the part of the book where she's the youngest. Since that's the beginning of the book, it just got off on the wrong foot for me and never seemed to improve. (288 pages)

6)Not My Daughter by Barbara Delinsky. This is a fiction story about three girls in a small town who make a pregnancy pact. One of their mothers happens to be the high school principal and was a teen mom herself, which adds an interesting twist. This was the first fiction book in a long time that I really, really liked and couldn't put down. (352 pages)

7) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Katniss Everdeen is a teenager in a post-revolution America that is controlled by "the capitol". In a show of power over the citizens and a reminder to them never to revolt again, the capitol takes two teenagers from each of 12 districts and puts them in The Hunger Games each year. The teens are expected to fight to the death until only one victor is left. While the book is plenty gruesome and at times graphic, it does bring up some really interesting food for thought about revolution, political power, and "group think" as well as things like self-sufficiency. This book had me hooked from the very first chapter. I read the whole thing in one day and couldn't wait to get the next book. (384 pages)

8) Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. In the second book of the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen is back and the capitol is not happy with her. The book focuses on how the capitol is targeting her and hints at another revolution rising up. Just as interesting as the first book, I also read this one in one day. (391 pages)

9) Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. This is the last book of the Hunger Games trilogy and it's just as good as the first two books. In this one, Katniss has become a symbol of the revolution and the rebels and the capitol battle for control of the country. (400 pages)

10) When Did I Get Like This?: The Screamer, the Worrier, the Dinosaur-Chicken-Nugget-Buyer, and Other Mothers I Swore I'd Never Be by Amy Wilson. This book was laugh out loud funny. It reads like a collection of blog posts put together and any mother who's vowed to feed her children the best diet possible, then found herself handing over a box of lucky charms to buy herself 15 more minutes of sleep on a Saturday morning will find plenty to identify with here. (272 pages)

11) The Treatment Trap: How the Overuse of Medical Care Is Wrecking Your Health and What You Can Do to Prevent It by Rosemary Gibson and Janardan Singh. I'm not an easy patient. I don't have a problem saying "no" when I disagree with a doctor or doing my own research (and I have the science background and the resources to really research, not just type things into google). I know that a lot of modern medicine is practiced the way it is because "that's the way it's always been done" and not because it's evidence based. So, I was an easy audience for these authors. All that said, there is some really good and eye opening (and well referenced) information in this book for those who may still be operating under the "doctors are the unquestionable authority figure" paradigm when making their medical decisions. (240 pages)

12)The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This was another book club pick and it was a very interesting non-fiction read. The book tells the story of the woman HeLa cells (which have been used in research labs all over the world for decades) were taken from. It's hard for me to tell because I already knew about the cells and how they're used, but I feel like there is enough background in here for anyone to understand the science. The majority of the book though is about Henrietta Lacks, her family, and issues of medical consent. The short story: Henrietta Lacks was treated for cervical cancer in the early 50's. Some of her tumor was cultured and it was discovered that her cells could be kept alive indefinitely under the right conditions. We call this tissue culture and her cells have been being reproduced and used to test various scientific theories ever since. The really sticky issues are that she never knew her cells were kept and since that time, companies have profited hugely by selling her cells. Meanwhile, her descendants don't even have health insurance. Definitely one of my favorite book club picks so far. (400 pages)

13)The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This was a book club pick back when I was so sick in the beginning of the pregnancy. I went ahead and read it recently because everyone said I'd really like. It is a post-apocalyptic setting and a man and his son are trying to make their way South before the weather gets too bad. Whatever has happened to the world, everything is covered in ash. There are no wild animals, no fish, and plants won't grow. So the only things they can eat are canned goods they scavenge out of abandoned stores and houses. To make things worse, groups of people are hunting other people to eat. I get why everyone thought I would like it--it's a survival tale. I had two main problems with it though. The first is that it's the most depressing survival tale imaginable. I mean, eventually, the food will run out and you can't grow anything, so it's impossible to truly survive. Secondly, the story just starts and just stops. There's no true beginning or end. You don't know what happened to cause the situation and you don't find out what happens in the end. Some things are open to interpretation, but I'd really rather have some sort of beginning and end. (304 pages)

14) In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan. This is the follow up to The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I read back on my 2007 book list. I have been wanting to read this forever and it was pretty impossible to get to the top of the wait list at the library, but right before we traveled back to Montana from Texas one of my book club buddies surprised me with a gift card to get it for my Kindle so I could read it on the trip back. After reading Omnivore's Dilemma, you almost feel just beat down about the food options available, but In Defense of Food comes along and gives you some rules to follow, the main one being "eat food". Which doesn't seem so hard until you realize that so much of what we call food is a conglomeration of artificial this and ethoxylated that and comes in a box. One of the clarifications he puts under that particular rule is to stick to things your great-grandmother would recognize as food. These rules are the backbone of the book and well worth reading and considering. He also discusses nutrition science and recommendations quite a bit, how they're formed, what they mean for the consumer, and what you should do about them. I know quite a bit about how our food is produced, how it gets to us and how it's regulated and there are A LOT of things I'd like to change about our diet--ideally opting out of the entire dang system--books like this help me take baby steps towards a better diet for all of us! (256 pages)

15) Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving--and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity by Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell. This was just what I needed to get me excited about moving again after having a baby. This book showed up on the promotional free book list for Kindles right about the time I looked in the bathroom mirror after a shower and realized I was down to my pre-pregnancy weight and everything was functioning as it did pre-pregnancy and that means the extra jiggle and squishiness is here until I put in the effort to get it gone. The book is a practical guide to running when you have small children. How to fit it into your day, how to actually get in shape, how not to get hurt, what shoes to wear, and how to negotiate time for a long run with your spouse. It's so "real" it's almost painful...there's an entire section of post-run recovery foods you can make yourself without dirtying a single dish (because who wants even MORE dishes to wash after serving children meals and snacks all day?). I particularly liked the "If you give a mouse a cookie" re-make that has a mom using her 40 kid free minutes searching for a reasonably clean running bra while getting side tracked by 30 other "must do" tasks. The book will make you laugh and inspire you to get moving again (or get moving faster, if you've already found the motivation to get out the door). (224 pages)

16)Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto. This was definitely an interesting read. Written by a New York school teacher about the evils of school. Mr. Gatto puts forth the idea that our schools are not failing, they are actually wildly successful at what they were designed to do. And what they were designed to do was create an unthinking workforce to fuel our consumer economy. He makes some very valid points. He makes a few half-hearted attempts at offering a solution (mainly stop throwing more money at the schools, scrap it all and start over, and homeschool). It wasn't a bad book and it wasn't as out there as it can sound from the summaries, but it did bug me that there weren't references. There are several statements he makes as if they are facts backed up research studies, but then he never references such studies, which leaves me wondering if it's only his opinion, or if there are really statistics to reinforce what he has to say. In the end, I read it as an opinion piece, which is probably what he intended in the first place. (144 pages)

17)The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Francis Child. This was really entertaining to read. It was another freebie Kindle book. The book is very old, a lot of it doesn't really apply to modern day, but it's still worth reading just to see how families might have done things long ago. The overall idea is still applicable today, but unless you need lessons on saving the paper and twine from your packages and can raise a family on $600/year, there's not a lot of practical advice. (108 pages)

18)Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling. I'm re-reading the series and also reading some of it to Sierra. (320 pages)

19)Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling. Again, just re-reading to share with Sierra. (341 pages)

20)Revenge of the Paste Eaters: Memoirs of a Misfit by Cheryl Peck. I picked this up at a library book sale. The author is a middle aged, lesbian, former misfit and the book is just a collection of stories. Journal entries, or blog posts or something. They don't really tie together or seem to be in any sort of order. It's entertaining enough if you run across it somewhere, but I wouldn't pay full price for it. (320 pages)

21)Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos. This book was hilarious. It's kind of an evangelical book written in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy format. The main character runs into a bunch of different Jesuses...hippie Jesus, angry Jesus, magic 8 ball Jesus, etc... on his way to finding the real Jesus. There is a lot of action, a ton of humor and it's just plain entertaining to read. (240 pages)

22)Labor of Love: A Midwife's Memoir by Cara Muhlhahn. This is a memoir written by the midwife that was featured in The Business of Being Born. The reviews are so-so and a lot of people mention how they really wanted to like the book and just couldn't because Cara comes across as arrogant. I didn't really read it that way, I just think she is very confident in her skills and abilities. Having had 2 homebirths myself, I assure you, you WANT a midwife who is confident in her skills. Respectful of dangers, but confident that she can fix what needs to be fix and transfer what she can't fix and to know the difference and have the gumption to give orders when it's needed. My only problem was that she seems to talk down about "lay midwives" in general rather than limiting her commentary to her own personal experience. My midwife is a lay midwife (a Certified Professional Midwife, or CPM, rather than Certified Nurse Midwife, or CNM...both are licensed in Texas) and I have a rather extensive scientific background. I have never felt she was subpar or "un-medical" when medical expertise was needed. I can't speak about CPMs in general because I haven't worked with many, but I suspect there are good ones and bad ones, just as there are good and bad CNMs and good and bad doctors. (272 pages)

23)Unbillable Hours: A True Story by Ian Graham. This is an account of a young lawyer who gets assigned work on the pro-bono case of Mario Rocha, a young man convicted at 16 for a murder despite a complete lack of evidence against him. Mr. Graham goes through his work on the case and how it changes his ideas (I think my favorite line was "I was getting a goddamned conscience!"). I know, it sounds boring, but it's wonderfully written. It's an interesting story that keeps you reading and also some good insight to the flaws of the legal system. (256 pages)

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