A Lovely Book Haul on a Lovely Halloween!

IMG_20171031_143445.jpgOur roommates came home with four of Barnes & Noble’s gorgeous limited edition hardcovers recently, which of course sent me to their website to find out what else they have. We already owned two – Arabian Nights and the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft. Yesterday, my order of four more arrived! I love how beautiful these books are, and would eventually love to have enough to fill a shelf. For my husband, I bought Aesop’s Fables, and Alice in Wonderland and other stories, which includes Through the Looking Glass and other short stories by Lewis Carroll. Husband’s pretty happy with the surprise. For myself I bought Classic Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, and Dracula and other stories by Bram Stoker. I ADORE Dracula, so I’m eager to read more stories by Stoker. I’m a little disappointed that Aesop’s Fables isn’t the same size as the others, but still pretty happy overall.

I also discovered a Friends of the Library bookstore yesterday, down by the University of Maryland in College Park. We were trying to kill time between my husband’s classes and a concert we were planning to go to. (We left early – we thought “Big Band Halloween Scream” meant Big Band-style Halloween songs – not three Jazz groups playing NOT Halloween songs. Go figure.) But the bookstore before the concert was awesome! img_20171031_143407.jpgMost of their used books were $2, so I got 6 books for $12! Two of them were books I’d had my eye on for a while – Colonize This! and Battle Cry of Freedom. I also picked up a college-level general history of the US. I was homeschooled through middle school, so a lot of my science and history education is pretty shoddy, and I’ve been trying to repair it for many years. Most of my history books were full of white imperialism and white saviors and missionaries. I’m hoping these will be a little more balanced. Battle Cry of Freedom focuses on the Civil War, and is part of The Oxford History of the United States. It’s also a Pulitzer Prize Winner. And I got it for $2! I’m pretty excited about Colonize This! too. I’ve had it on my Amazon wish list for a while. The other three books were just for fun – the two Kathy Love books looked pretty funny, and neither my husband nor I had heard of the Brandon Sanderson novella. He’s one of our favorite authors, so we snagged it.

Of course, I bought books when I still have library books to read, and three more library books ready to be picked up off the Hold shelf! I finished reading Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom today, so Sunday’s review will be a joint review of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. (Spoiler: I loved them both!)

Tonight, though, I’m watching Beetlejuice (would you believe I’ve never seen it? Husband was appalled!) and passing out candy to kids. We bought two giant bags of candy from Costco, most of which will probably be eaten by us because we don’t usually get too many Trick-or-Treaters. Tomorrow I will dive back into my rapidly growing TBR pile!

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Book Review: The Journal of Best Practices

journalThe Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband
by David Finch
Memoir
222 pages
Published 2012

Well. I’m still not 100% back to health, but I’m well enough to get absorbed in a book again! This book was especially interesting to me because we are pretty sure that my husband is on the autism spectrum. What would have been called Asperger’s a few years ago, before they wrapped that back into autism, because it’s all the same syndrome – it just differs in how it impacts people. (The book was obviously written before that happened, though Asperger’s still seems to be shorthand for autistic people that don’t fit what most people think of as autistic – what some people would call high-functioning, I suppose, though that’s also not as cut and dried as it seems. Rebecca Burgess described it well in her comic on Tumblr.)

I read portions of this book aloud to my husband, because they described him to a T. The very first page mentions how Finch recalls his niece’s birthday, not because he’s a good uncle, but because it’s 3/14 – Pi. My husband remembers my birthday because it’s half a stick of RAM (well it used to be, anyway!) – 5/12. Now he remembers it as 2^9. The first chapter then goes on to describe how Finch’s wife sat him down with a self-diagnostic questionnaire (he received an official diagnosis later) and he was surprised at how many questions described him. While they didn’t list all 200 or so questions in the book, the ones that were mentioned I asked my husband. He was a Yes to all but one, and looked at me afterwards with a laugh and a joking “I’m feeling a little attacked right now!” That included questions like “Do you sometimes have an urge to jump over things?” (Yes) and “Have you been fascinated by making traps?” Husband told me about a book on survival he’d been given when he was 14 or so – he doesn’t remember much of it, but he can recall almost verbatim the chapter on traps and snares.

The book was a fascinating look into the mind of an adult with autism trying (and succeeding!) to navigate a relationship. It gave us a lot to talk about, and a few new strategies to try. If you know or love anyone on the autism spectrum, I highly recommend this book. It might help you understand how they see things.

I have another book on autism to read soon – Been There, Done That, Try This! – about coping strategies for autistic adults. I’m eager to see how much of that we can use in our daily lives.

From the cover of The Journal of Best Practices:

At some point in nearly every marriage, a wife finds herself asking, What the @#!% is wrong with my husband?! In David Finch’s case, this turns out to be an apt question. Five years after he married Kristen, the love of his life, they learn that he has Asperger syndrome. The diagnosis explains David’s ever-growing list of quirks and compulsions, his lifelong propensity to quack and otherwise melt down in social exchanges, and his clinical-strength inflexibility. But it doesn’t make him any easier to live with.

Determined to change, David sets out to understand Asperger syndrome and learn to be a better husband – no easy task for a guy whose inability to express himself rivals his two-year-old daughter’s, who thinks his responsibility for laundry extends no further than throwing things in (or at) the hamper, and whose autism-spectrum condition makes seeing his wife’s point of view a near impossibility.

Nevertheless, David devotes himself to improving his marriage with an endearing yet hilarious zeal that involves excessive note-taking, performance reviews, and most of all, the Journal of Best Practices: a collection of hundreds of maxims and hard-won epiphanies that result from self-reflection both comic and painful. They include “Don’t change the radio station when she’s singing along,” “Apologies do not count when you shout them,” and “Be her friend, first and always.” Guided by the Journal of Best Practices, David transforms himself over the course of two years from the world’s most trying husband to the husband who tries the hardest, the husband he’d always meant to be.

I’m on the Mend!

I am finally on the mend. It’s a long slog back to what passes for healthy for me, though. Staying awake long enough to read anything has been a challenge, and books are coming due at the library before I’ve even been able to start them. I’m particularly sad about Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough – it’s due today, someone else has a hold on it, and I’ve only managed to read the first 20 or so pages. Enough to know I REALLY want to read the entire thing. I am trying to resist the temptation to buy my own copy.

IMG_20171011_180750.jpgI received my copy of Femme Magnifique in the mail this week! FM is a feminist graphic novel made through Kickstarter – the tagline is “A comic book anthology salute to 50 magnificent women who take names, crack ceilings and change the game in pop, politics, art & science.” There are 50 different comics, by different artists, about pioneering women. It’s a fantastic book, and I will take some pictures and put up a full review as soon as I can. My copy, unfortunately, arrived with some damage to the spine, but the group behind it had already sent out an e-mail saying their shipper had used the wrong packaging for the first wave of books, and to contact them if your book arrived damaged. So I’ve done that, and they’re figuring out how to replace copies.

I finally got around to reading Six of Crows as I was getting sick, before I got truly ill. It was fantastic, and I have the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, which I’ll be reading very soon. I’ll put up a joint review of the two books when I’m done.

I also bought a novel, because my library doesn’t have it, about a couple opening up their relationship. Next Year, For Sure is by a Canadian author, as well, so that’s another for my Read Canadian Challenge.

I’m hoping to get back to two reviews a week as soon as I finish kicking this lung/ear/throat crap to the curb. I miss blogging, and more than that, I miss reading!

Book Review: American War

americanwarAmerican War
by Omar El Akkad
Alternate Future Dystopia
333 pages
Published 2017

By now you probably know there are a few things I tend to enjoy in novels. Dystopias, Fantasies, Debut Novels, and Diversity tend to peak my interest, and American War is a dystopian debut novel by an Egyptian-Canadian author.

And it’s FANTASTIC.

El Akkad did an absolutely amazing job of weaving together the North/South rivalry of the US, climate change, the changing nature of energy generation, and US wars in the middle east to write an all-too-plausible novel about the US, seventy years from now.

Alternating between narrative chapters following his protagonist, and “historical documents” about the time period, he masterfully tells the story of how a terrorist is made. Because that’s what Sarat, his protagonist, is. Let’s make no bones about that. She is a terrorist. But she is a terrorist whose reasoning makes sense to us. Perhaps because the territories and the peoples are familiar to us, perhaps because we see how she grew up and what drove her to it – but the end result is a terrorist act on an unheard-of scale.

I’d like to think this book would make people look at refugees and terrorists in a new light – with more understanding and compassion and maybe with ideas to help actually combat the attitudes and circumstances that lead to terrorist acts. But I doubt it. I doubt this will change any minds that don’t already understand the underlying reasons.

My only quibble with this book is while he manages to weave together so many other issues facing our country right now, he doesn’t really wrap in racism. And I have a hard time believing our country is past racism 70 years from now.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find the protagonist is a bisexual, gender non-conforming woman of color. How awesome is that? And her bisexuality isn’t mentioned, it’s shown, her one on-screen sex scene (and it’s only barely on-screen) being with a woman. (She’s also attracted to a man in the book.)

The author was born in Egypt, grew up in Qatar, and lived in Canada, earning at least one award for his investigative reporting while working at The Globe and Mail. He’s one of the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s 17 writers to watch this year, and I see why. American War is definitely one of my favorite books of 2017.

My other Read Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. this book
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of American War:

In this fiercely audacious debut novel, Omar El Akkad takes us into a near future in which a politically polarized America descends into a second Civil War – and amid warfare, a family fights to survive.

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the war breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, her home state is half underwater, and the unmanned drones that fill the sky are not there to protect her. A stubborn, undaunted, and thick-skinned tomboy, she is soon pulled into the heart of secessionist country when the war reaches Louisiana and her family is forced into Camp Patience, a sprawling tent city for refugees. There she is befriended by a mysterious man who opens her eyes to the injustices around her and under whose tutelage she is transformed into a deadly instrument of revenge.

Narrated by the one person privy to Sarat’s secret life, American War is a hauntingly told story of the immeasurable ruin of war – in a nation, a community, a family, an individual. It’s a novel that considers what might happen if the United States were to turn its most devastating policies and weapons upon itself.