Elizabeth: What Have You Read Wednesday?


Another month, another attempt to reduce the To Be Read pile. This month had a number of cool grey days that were perfect for curling up on the couch with a good book.  Regrettably, they frown on doing that at work. Fortunately, there were enough evenings and weekends for me to make a dent in the pile, thought I can neither confirm nor deny that I added more new titles to the list than I read.

Anyway, here’s what topped the list this month:

A Classic

First up, in honour of Dr. Seuess’ birthday, was The Sneetches. The story, a favourite of my son, packs a tremendous amount of action in a minimal amount of words. It is proof that you can tell a rich story very simply.

When the Star-Belly children went out to play ball,

Could a Plain Belly get into the game . . . ? Not at all.

You only could play if your bellies had stars

And the Plain-Belly children had none upon thars.

Considered a social commentary on discrimination between races and cultures, the story camouflages its seriousness with rhyming verses and imaginative pictures. It was a delightful start to my month’s reading. It’s hard to go wrong with Dr. Seuss, no matter how old you are.

A new author

Actually, this month it was two new authors. I started with The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. This book initially joined my electronic TBR pile back in January 2014. It received great reviews and, I have to admit, had special appeal for me because it was written by a former IT consultant. The story is a romantic comedy with a male voice about an extraordinary man learning to live and love in an ordinary world. It’s quirky and fun and after the first few pages I found it completely engaging.

“I may have found a solution to the Wife Problem. As with so many scientific breakthroughs, the answer was obvious in retrospect. But had it not been for a series of unscheduled events, it is unlikely I would have discovered it.”

The main character, a socially challenged genetics professor named Don Tillman, begins The Wife Project in order to find the perfect partner. Because real-life is rarely perfect, his scientific project doesn’t work out as planned, and his regularly scheduled life is interrupted by the Potential Father Project, the Great Cocktail Night, the New York Adventure, and the Reform Don Project, before finally leading to the Rosie Project and a chance at happily-ever-after. Don is charming and endearing and it’s impossible not to root for him as he works on his projects. This story was a winner for me and I look forward to reading more by this author.

Next up was Imperfect Chemistry by Mary Frame. I picked up this book just last week, based on a recommendation from the Word Wenches blog. Like The Rosie Project, it deals with an intelligent, socially challenged main character – in this case Lucy, a 20-year old with a PhD in microbiology. She’s knowledgeable about a lot of things, but not emotions or people, as is evidenced by her lack of success in the college peer counseling clinic.

 I have to get her to stop crying. I shuffle through the index of knowledge in my brain and pull out items at random.

“He’s not worth it,” I try.

She’s still crying.

“You can do so much better.”

Not helping. If anything, it’s getting worse.

She’s got a grant to research “emotions as a pathogen” but has no real understanding of emotions or relationships. So, what does a scientific-minded, individual do when confronted with a problem? Make a plan, of course.

I need experience with relationships. The words run around in my head. I can find friends. That should be easy enough. Go to a social function, engage in conversation. How hard can it be?

Lucy goes about her plan with the same resolute persistence that Don showed in The Rosie Project and like him, after some challenges the results are more than she ever could have imagined. The characters in this story were well drawn and endearing and I was rooting for them as the story progressed. This one was another winner for me – I’ve already downloaded the author’s next book, Imperfectly Criminal.

Something Thought-Provoking

My last selection for the month was The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The subject of happiness has interested me for some time and I’ve read a variety of books, taken classes, and watched any number of TED talks on the subject. I’m not sure exactly when I first picked up this particular book – I found it recently while clearing out my library shelves – but decided it was time to give it a try. Underlying all of the information provided in the book, were the Dalai Lama’s underlying beliefs:

. . . a belief in the fundamental gentleness and goodness of all human beings, a belief in the value of compassion, a belief in a policy of kindness, and a sense of commonality among all living creatures.

One section of the book that I felt tied in rather nicely with my other selections this month was the chapter on deepening connections to others.  It talked about establishing empathy and developing an awareness and respect for the feelings of others.  That is something that was evident in the other books I read.  In their own ways, the main characters each showed the growth of both awareness and respect for others and themselves during the course of the story, which did truly seem to lead to happiness.  This was not a book to breeze through (I’m still working through the “Bringing About Change” section) but it has nuggets of information throughout that provide good food for thought, making the reading journey worthwhile.

So what have you read this month?  Any keepers or recommendations?

20 thoughts on “Elizabeth: What Have You Read Wednesday?

  1. LOL, I am having a gray work day, too. Would very much rather be home, wrapped in a blanket, reading a book and sipping on something hot and creamy. Looks like I will have to drive through 30 centimeters of snow to get to that happy place, though. It’s been snowing alllllll day. Again. (Our third major snow since last Friday.)

    I really like the emotionally-challenged heroes of the first books you describe. I’m going to have to look for them (-:.

    As for me, I’ve finally got around to Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. It’s blowing my mind. The main theme I keep circling back to is that civilization and group work decreases violence — in other words, community. Well, he says The Leviathan (the big government that keeps our streets clean, our food pure, and the guns registered — at least in Japan). He argues that decentralization of power makes people think of resources as a zero-sum game, and causes more violence as competition increases. Well, maybe he doesn’t argue that, but I’m reading that. I think the book is changing my conception of conflict and story-telling.

    • Michaeline – if you read the “emotionally-challenged heroes” books, let me know what you think of them. The The Better Angels of Our Nature sounds interesting. I’ll have to look that up.

  2. Yesterday, Elaine mentioned the Writers Write website. They have a great post about books to read. There is a list for a 2015 Reading Challenge that is a list of 12 types of books to chose to read this year like a book you’ve been meaning to read, a book that was originally written in a different language, a book you should have read in high school, etc. (http://writerswrite.co.za/12-books-i-am-planning-to-read-in-2015). The only thing I’ve read this month is two different translations of Antigone and about a million scholarly articles on the meaning of various scenes.

    • Michille – two different translations of Antigone and a million scholarly articles sounds like a very robust reading list for the month. I’ll have to look up the lists you’ve mentioned. So far, I’ve just been trying to read my way through my own library, but I’m always looking for interesting things to add.

      • Actually the reading challenge might help you choose which books to read if any of the ones on your bookshelf fit into the list – like a book recommended by someone with good taste.

  3. I pulled out one I haven’ t read for years… Last of the Breed, by Louis L’Amour…. It’s one of his longer stories and not one of his westerns. He is by far one of the best character and short fiction writers I’ve ever read. He can give you a complete story with a complete character and full character development in 3 pages. Amazing!

    • Hi Penny. Embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve never read any Louis L’Amour. Obviously I need to remedy that.

  4. I agree with your son, Elizabeth – I’m a lifelong Dr. Seuss fan, and The Sneetches is my absolute favorite of his stories!

    The miserably cold winter we’ve had has put me in a cozy mysteries mood, so last week I read Sofie Kelly’s A Midwinter’s Tail (a Magical Cats Mystery), and Miranda James’ Bless Her Dead Little Heart (a Southern Ladies Mystery). Next up is a much darker book: Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls. This one’s been in my queue for a while now and I’m really anxious to get to it.

    • Nancy – I haven’t read any of Sofie Kelly’s books, though they keep popping up in my “Amazon Recommends” queue. I’m a fan of cozy mysteries – I’ll have to give her a try. Should I start with her first book or are they stand-alone reads?

      • I’m a fan of reading series in order if at all possible, and there is some family stuff and a VERY slow-moving romantic arc that would read better if you started with book 1. That being said, it isn’t necessary to understanding the world or the characters.

        • Nancy – I’ll start with book one then and see how it goes. As for cozies, I’ve read several by Jenn McKinlay – not sure if you’ve read any of hers. She has three mystery series – cupcake, library, and London hat shop themed.

    • LOL, if I didn’t have a reading pile as high as myself, I would be so tempted to get “Bless Her Dead Little Heart” just for the title . . . . I love snarky Southern heroines if they are basically kind.

  5. I’m in the middle of “The Fever Tree” by Jennifer McVeigh and it’s amazing. Aside from the character and setting descriptions, which are stunning, it’s a fabulous story about a late 19th century English miss left penniless when her father dies who agrees to marry a distant cousin and live in South Africa. But she falls in love with someone else on the voyage there. The setting is the veldt and the diamond mines in Kimberly. I’m enjoying it in part for the story, but also for McVeigh’s descriptions, which are weighty, rich, and vivid. Oh, that I could write like her!

    • Justine, that sounds like a great read. I haven’t read anything by Jennifer McVeigh before – another author to add to the list to check out.

  6. I bought The Rosie Project ages ago, because it sounded different and it had so many great reviews. I thought it was well-written and clever, but I couldn’t get into it. I didn’t care about Don, so I abandoned him after a chapter or so. Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we all liked the same books?

    As planned, I spent last night and the early hours of this morning reading Anne Bishop’s new book Vision in Silver. I’d recommend it, and I’ll definitely buy the other two books in the series, but I didn’t insta-love it as much as the first two in the series, because it was so much darker. The best analogy I could come up with this morning was Lord of the Rings: you start in a mostly good place, with serious bits, light-hearted interludes, and a scary, dark shadow hanging over the world. Read on, and before you know it, Sauron’s crushing the world under his yoke, the good guys are in desperate trouble and the story got all kinds of grim. At the end of Vision in Silver, the world of the Others is in a scary place, though there are bright spots on the horizon. And although the romance arc didn’t move much, there was a lot of necessary personal growth for the main characters (especially the heroine), which gives them a much, much better chance of a getting to satisfying, credible HEA over the course of the next two books (I hope, or there will be tears before bedtime).

    • Jilly, you’re right, the world would be a more boring place if we all liked the same thing. I’ll admit, I did take a wile to warm up to The Rosie Project when I started it. I’m not typically a fan of first-person narrative and the style was different from what I was expecting, so I was on the fence for a while. Fortunately the story took over at some point and I was good to go from there.

      I haven’t read any Anne Bishop, though she has been recommended to me before. I’ll have to add her to the list to check out, though the lighter stories, not the darker ones. I’m not a big fan of the dark.

  7. How funny, I was literally just two minutes ago looking at An Imperfect Chemistry on Amazon and wondering whether to buy it – I shall now press the Buy button. The best book I’ve read recently was The Deal by Elle Kennedy. It’s a New Adult college story – great characters, great chemistry – and each time I thought the story was going to take a turn I didn’t like the author kept pleasantly surprising me (this includes the start, which I thought was clunky and just when I thought it was going to be yet another rubbish book I’d bought, it was suddenly really good.)

    • Rachel – how coincidental 🙂 Hope you like the book. I haven’t read many New Adult college stories. I’ll have to take at look at Elle Kennedy. Thanks for the recommendation.

  8. I read (completely thanks to your recommendation last month) “The Woman in White”. It was well worth reading. The language gets a bit convoluted at times, but the characters are fun and the social commentary is damned amusing.

    Also from the last month: four more of the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood series (I think that series might well be worth reading for authors who hope to develop a series, if only to see how to fail to develop characters); three more of the Tamora Pierce “Circle” series (decent enough for YA novels, and certainly fast enough to qualify as “popcorn books”); “Hallowed Hunt” by Lois McMaster Bujold, which I had accidentally not reread in the last 8 years (good god, that woman can write).

    • Scott – glad you liked The Woman in White. Definitely not a light hearted beach read, but definitely worth reading. I’ve yet to read any Bujold, though I have several in my queue (your recommendations, I believe). One day I’ll get to them I’m sure.

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