The Books I Didn’t Talk About

I don’t think I physically have the time to review every. single. book. I read, however optimal that might be for you, readers or me, who has trouble remembering (and therefore appreciating) the books I read.

So here is a little taste of the books I read this year, but haven’t had time to mention.

I. Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

“And finally,” Jamie said as he pushed the door open, “we come to the main event. Your room.”

This is familiar Dessen territory – Ruby’s mother isn’t around, then she disappears. When Social Services catches on, she’s forced to move in with her estranged older sister and her new husband. She meets a boy who, by the end of the book, makes her see the world in a different light. Ruby transforms from the inside out. The book earns it’s pretty pink cover.

Fans won’t be disappointed. I found it a little more… uh… heavy-handed with the symbolism than Dessen’s previous works, but enjoyable nonetheless. And even better on the re-read, I might say. This lady has yet to leave me wanting for more.

2. 1776 by David McCullough

On the afternoon of Thursday, October 26, 1775, His Royal Majesty, King George III, King of England, rode in royal splendor from Saint James’s Palace to the Palace of Westminster, there to address the opening of Parliament on the increasingly distressing issue of war in America.

American history, straight no chaser. Covers the pivotal year of 1776, focusing not on American politics, but on the wartime strategies and misfortunes of both armies that somehow turned a scrappy, hopeless band of patriots from sitting ducks to world players.

I was a little optimistic with this one, assuming I had the patience and interest required to make it through a book of this substance. I found it interesting, but a little too warfare focused to make it worth the energy. Plus, audio was an awful choice. I listened to entire discs over again before realizing I’d already heard them! But McCullough’s writing style definitely makes the material more accessible than a textbook, so don’t overlook this one if you have a jones for revolutionary history.

3. What Is The What by Dave Eggers

I have no reason not to answer the door, so I answer the door.

This book is a strange hybrid of this insular, slightly disaffected Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and the rest of the world. The star is real-life Lost Boy of Sudan, Valentino Achak Deng, who left his family when his village was attacked and spent the next decade of his life walking across Africa and living in refugee camps. By the time of his writing, Valentino had made it to America to go to college, thanks to certain aid associations, and while he has a cell phone, a roommate, an apartment, and a parttime job, Western life is still daunting, and the horrors of his past seem to follow him no matter how hard he tries to get away.

I really enjoyed this book, although I found it occasionally maddening to read. Maddening in the sense that so many tragedies could befall one person. Maddening that I either wanted to read for hours or couldn’t bear to read more than a paragraph. Maddening that there were so many pages. Maddening that it would end. Add this one to your lists, please.

4. The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier

It’s late at night as I lie in bed in the blue glow of the television set.

I didn’t really know who Sidney Poitier was until I picked up this book, but I now know this. He was born on The Bahamas in what we would consider extreme poverty, but he considered an idyllic childhood. Without intention, he found an acting career during a period of American segregation, and went on to be the first African American actor to win an Academy Award.

But you don’t have to know anything about film to appreciate this book. What sucked me in was his descriptions and analysis of his childhood, and his thoughtful observations continue on to the rest of his life. Unlike most “celebrity” memoirs, Mr. Poitier’s voice never sounds canned, his ideas aren’t preachy, and the prose sounds so honest. This isn’t an exposé. This is a life’s summation, in print. In case you couldn’t tell, Andrea, I liked it a lot 🙂

5. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz

The Feast of All Souls, I ran from my tutor – / Latin and grammar, no wonder!

I’m not sure what I expected when I picked this one off the shelf, but it certainly wasn’t what I found! The author wrote the contents of this book – a collection of medieval narratives, monologues, and poems – for a group of students during a unit on medieval life. Unlike most conjunctions of literature and historical education (Johnny Tremain? Are you kidding me?), I so got into this book, and could see 10-12 year-old Jessica doing the same. Instead of focusing on the political and cultural differences between Medieval Europe and Now, Ms. Schlitz’s narratives each capture the life of one young person growing up in this time. What would it be like to be the daughter of a villein (basically a medieval sharecropper) who fears an unpleasant marriage, or the son of the mill operator, tormented by his peers because his father has to cheat the townsfolk out of their pennies to make a living?

The author puts in just the right amount of informative footnotes, and focuses on the gritty, interesting parts of medieval life. I had the following conversation with my mother after reading:

“Mom, did you read this book?” “Yeah, it was pretty cool, right?” “Exactly, mom. Exxxactly.”


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