You guys!! I feel so badly that I’ve already been terrible about my bookish resolutions I made last week. Well, “real life” got a little crazy busy and then I got a head cold. So, here we are. Lots of book reviews to catch up on!
The week of Christmas my husband and I drove up to Wisconsin to spend the holiday with my family. We did the “gramma loop,” and my brother and I always called it, through Green Bay and Antigo. Although I was bummed to miss the Sunday Packer game due to weather and illness (delayed our trip by a few days), I’m glad my cousins got to go and we all had a great time together later. This first Christmas without either of my grandparents (on mom’s side) was a little bittersweet, but ultimately still just as wonderful as ever. On the road, Nick and I listened to three audiobooks:
The short story collection Tenth of December by George Saunders (read by the author) which came out in early 2013 was our first audiobook on the trip. While I enjoyed it well enough, and there were a couple of stand-outs, I still think I’m just not a short-story person. I had the same problem with This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz last summer. Maybe next time I’ll try a short-story collection on paper instead of audio. Anyway, there are four stories in the collection that have stayed with me, starting with the title story: a middle-age man with cancer goes to a frozen lake in the middle of the woods to commit suicide, only to find a young boy needing his own life-saving there. “The Semplica Girls Diaries” is about a father trying to “keep up with the Joneses” as it were, impressing his young daughter on her birthday with Semplica Girls—young women from impoverished countries who sign a contract to go to wealthy American’s homes, strung together through their brains, and hung up as lawn decorations. This one was probably the best, but on audio I struggled with the fragmented sentences and diary style. Easy to read through, not so easy to listen to. I also liked “Escape from Spiderhead,” about a prisoner enrolled in an experiment to test a drugs that induce certain feelings, and the stark, brief “Sticks.” Tenth of December is full of dark humor but not all the stories are funny. I’m disappointed I had to miss Saunders’s tour stop here in Kansas City this week! [Listened to audiobook on December 23, 2013.]
Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern was sprung from the author’s twitter feed, which started he when he moved back into his parents’ house after a bad breakup. Halpern’s father Sam is retired, speaks his mind, and doesn’t suffer fools or bullshit. This book is basically a memoir of different times in Halpern’s life when he interacted with his father, or that were directly influenced by his father or something he said. Lots of profanity, of course! I was a little shocked sometimes by what Sam said to his sons… I can’t imagine my dad being so sharp-tongued! Sh*t My Dad Says, like many internet-borne books, is a light, quick, amusing read, but not a life-changer. Although Sam is revealed to be soft-hearted (in his own way) in many of these memories, I still didn’t come away thinking I’d like to know him in person. [Listened to audiobook on December 26, 2013.]
On the way back home we listened to Rabid by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy, a “cultural history” of rabies. With elements of biology, anthropology, fantasy, medical science, and history, Rabid is a well rounded non-fiction that Nick and I both enjoyed. Wasik and Murphy talk about how rabies penetrated every level of society, from aristocrats to bats and everything in between. There are significant sections on Pasteur and his discovery of a vaccine; how rabies is connected to the mythologies of vampires, werewolves, and even zombies; the first person to survive rabies without the vaccine (in Wisconsin!); and how rabies traveled across continents, one chapter specific to the virus being brought to the previously rabies-free island of Bali. Rabid is less disgusting and edge-of-your-seat-terror than The Hot Zone, which I read a couple months ago, but getting rabies is still a frightening prospect. Terrible, miserable way to go. It’s really fascinating material in Rabid, dare I say gripping, even? Yes! [Listened to audiobook from December 27 to 30, 2013.]