Tuesday, August 1, 2017

July Books, Part 2

Part 1 of my July book list is here.

Simple Recipes by Madeleine Thien
This is a short book of short stories, which I sat down and read in a couple of hours. I enjoyed it in a weird sort of way. The first story raised goosebumps and none of them were what I would call ‘happy,’ but they were good stories. One story felt somewhat strange to read as it was written in the second person. I found myself trying to determine who the ‘you’ was that she was talking about. Common themes running through the stories are migration, family relationships (parents and children and spouses), mental health issues, growing up, being a cultural outsider, and work.

The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair
This was a fun book! The author has sections on the different colour families and within those discusses various shades of that colour. She provides a history of the colour, how it affected the culture, how artists used it, and more. each page was edged with a stripe of the colour under discussion and at times I found myself arranging the pages to see several of them side by side, making it easier to compare them.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
I don’t remember exactly where I heard of this book, but I suspect it was in an Off the Shelf email. It’s a cleverly constructed book and good story by the creator of Midsomer Murders (Bill is a big fan of the show). The book begins in Crouch End, London where a book editor tells us about a manuscript she read that changed her life in ways good and bad. She begins the story at the point where she is home from a business trip and abot to settle in to read the latest maunscript by the publishing company’s star author. It’s the final case of his series detective. The first section of the book is short and sets things up. Then we begin the novel within a novel. There is a twist at the end of the manuscript which alerts the editor to a real-life mystery involving the author, who, the editor learns, has died, apparently due to illness. We then pick up the story with which the book began. I loved the book--definitely a page turner--and with the added bonus of it being two books in one. I was also amused to see a reference to the Essex Serpent hysteria which figured prominantly in the novel of the same name that I read a few books before this one.

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Schaefer
I heard the authors of this book on a podcast last year and searched for the book at the library. I was not surprised when I didn’t find it. Recently though, a friend sent me a story about poverty in the US and this book was mentioned. I checked the library again and found a copy, so I requested it. I’m glad I found it. The book is a combination of personal stories, qualitative data, and discussions of policy and the history of welfare reform. It reminded me once again about how much hard work is involved in surviving as a poor person. It is not easy to continue to get back up time after time after time when life and the system keep knocking you down. As the personal stories in the book illustrate, the simplistic ideas people have about poor people and what they should do are uninformed and unhelpful. For example, it is common to hear people going on about people going out and getting a job as though it’s a simple matter. Even if a job opening appears, there are other layers of things to consider. One woman in the book applied for a job in Chicago in the summer. Her interview was scheduled on a sweltering day. The only decent clothing she could wear to a job interview was made of black polyester--not exactly the most cooling attire. She could not afford public transport, so she had to walk--and walk, and walk, and walk. Then she got lost so she walked some more. She eventually found where she needed to be, but she was hot, sweaty, and an hour late. You will not be surprised to learn that she did not get the job. The stories in the book are a good reminder that we really need to have a deeper understanding of both personal circumstances and societal problems before we start judging people and coming up with simplistic and unhelpful ideas that punish them and make the underlying problems worse.

Happy August!

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