February Reading Recap

It’s already March 4! I fell behind on my blogging last month; however, I did stick to my reading goal (exciting stuff, I know).

My February selections were:

  • Fiction – Human Acts by Han Kang
  • Nonfiction – Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia by David Greene
  • Book from the Past – The Story of My Boyhood and Youth – by John Muir
  • Other Format or Genre – Death of a Maid: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery – M. C. Beaton

Brief Reviews:

Image result for human acts han kangHuman Acts by South Korean author Han Kang is a novel of the Gwangju Uprising (Wikipedia).  In 1980, South Korean troops clashed with civilians protesting the government of Chun Doo-hwan. Although exact figures are disputed, some estimates put the death toll over 600, while over 3,500 were injured in the violence. Many of the casualties were young university students.

The novel is told through the perspectives of multiple characters who witnessed or took part in the uprising. Some chapters are written in the second person, which I found interesting. The tone of the writing is deceptively quiet in contrast to the violence of the content. I found myself wishing the title was Inhuman Acts, but maybe that’s the point, as the following quote from the book illustrates. In this scene, one of the witnesses is being interviewed by a professor for a book:

I heard a story about one of the Korean army platoons that fought in Vietnam. How they forced the women, children, and elderly of one particular village into the main hall, and then burned it to the ground. Some of those who came to slaughter us did so with the memory of those previous times, when committing such actions in wartime had won them a handsome reward. It happened in Gwangju just as it did on Jeju Island, in Kwantung and Nanjing, in Bosnia, and all across the American continent when it was still known as the New World, with such a uniform brutality it’s as though it is imprinted in our genetic code.

I never let myself forget that every single person I meet is a member of this human race. And that includes you, professor, listening to this testimony. As it includes myself.” – Han Kang, Human Acts, page 97.

This was the first book I’ve read by a Korean author, and I enjoyed the experience of learning a little bit about South Korea’s history, a topic on which I’m largely ignorant. I spent some time on Wikipedia researching the events portrayed in the book, and that helped alot with giving the story context and helping me understand it better. (I received a copy of this book from bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for an honest review).

Image result for midnight in siberiaMidnight In Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia is David Greene’s account of a trip he took on the Trans-Siberian express from Moscow to the Pacific port of Vladivostok. Not knowing much about Russia beyond what I read in the news and books, or see in films and games, it was interesting to get a closer perspective on the lives of everyday people across this vast and intriguing country. The author is a host of NPR’s Morning Edition, of which I am a frequent listener, and so it perhaps natural that the book had a journalistic tone and style. The book was interesting, although I did skim over some parts. It did not inspire me to travel to Russia.

Image result for john muirThe Story of My Boyhood and Youth is John Muir’s account of his early years growing up on his Scottish immigrant family’s Wisconsin farm, and was my favorite book this month. It’s relatively short (about 140 pages), and full of Muir’s beautiful prose and descriptions. After finishing it, I was astonished to discover that no major motion picture has yet been adapted from this story – it seems like it is ready-made for the big screen. Some of the highlights include the many formidable tasks his father expected him to complete on the farm, such as digging a 90 foot well through sandstone by hand with a chisel and hammer, and the many wonderful contraptions Muir invented, such as a clock that could light a fire in the stove. Muir’s deep passion for learning and for nature, and his empathy with living creatures is endearing and inspiring. I would recommend Muir’s writings to anyone who enjoys nature, but you do have to adapt to the somewhat old-timey language and slow pace. Reading a bit of it aloud in a slow, meditative way can help you get a feel for the language. If you do, you will enjoy Muir’s quiet humor, descriptive prowess, and charming storytelling.

 

January Craft and Reading Update

My creative effort this month has taken the form of a crocheted cat doll made from a pattern I found in the adorable book “Amineko” by “Nekoyama.” My amineko did not turn out exactly like the pictures in the book, but I think it’s not bad for my first crochet project in something like 10 years, and definitely my first actually following a pattern.

I think if I made another one it would be better, because apparently crocheting, like most things, requires time and effort and practice in order for there to be improvement. With my “Jack-of-all-trades, master of none” personality, however, I will probably move on and try my hand at something else.

On another note, I will probably not finish “The Gene” by the end of January. I only read about a third of it and then it was due (I borrowed it from the library) and I had to give it back because other people were waiting for it. I also borrowed it on CD for my dad, however, so maybe I can listen to the rest of it.

Paradoxically, my dad enjoys books but not reading. He has a bit of ADHD, so he’s never been able to sit down and concentrate on a book for very long, although he does fine when he has to — he’s great at his job, and finished a master’s in counseling with no problem. Recreational reading, though, was never his thing — until my mom and I started getting him books on CD from the library. It seems he can pay attention to audiobooks with little or no trouble. Now the difficulty is simply that he doesn’t like to pick them out on his own, and prefers that I select his reading for him.

It’s both easy and challenging to pick out books for my dad. He’ll listen to just about anything I give him, but it’s hard to get him to pinpoint what exactly he likes to listen to. For the most part, I just get him books that I’ve read and enjoyed, and that I think he’d like too, but my tastes run mostly to nonfiction, especially anything science-y or medical. He seems to enjoy these sorts of books too, but it would be easier if he’d just try to identify a few topics of interest on his own.

Some of the books I pick are fun and light, like Mary Roach’s “Packing for Mars” (his current selection), while others are ponderous and more demanding (“The Emperor of All Maladies” comes to mind). We’ll see how far he gets into “The Gene” (and how for I get, for that matter).

I’m also reading “Zika: The Emerging Epidemic” by Donald G. McNeil Jr., which is short and reads like a popular magazine article. I doubt it’s available on audiobook through the library, but I’ll check. I think my dad would like it too.

2017 Reading Goals

It’s been awhile since I wrote anything, but I hope to post more consistently in the coming year.

My reading goal for 2017 is to read at least one nonfiction book and one fiction book each month. For January, my selections are “The Children’s Home” by Charles Lawrence for fiction and “The Gene” by Siddhartha Mukherjee for nonfiction.

Since earning my undergrad degree in literature, I’ve hardly read anything that could be classified as “literature.” Most of my fiction reading has fallen into the categories of horror, sci-fi, and (dare I say?) paranormal romance. While “The Children’s Home” is classified as horror, it’s described as literary horror, which is supposedly superior to other categories. I’m looking forward to “The Gene” because I loved Mukherjee’s 2010 work, “The Emperor of All Maladies.”

Happy New Year, and happy reading!