ariadnes_string: (lewis hathaway reading)
[ profile] destina asked me for my seven favorite non-fiction books, which was a great question, though it turned out to be hard narrowing it down! I’m sure not sure these are my seven absolute favorites—I’ll probably remember something the minute I post this—but these are the seven(non-work) books I remember loving right now (many of them pretty recent).

For a long time the only kind of non-fiction book I really liked was biography and autobiography. I remember reading those “biographies for little kids” of people like Marie Curie and Louis Pasteur when I was really young. I still primarily enjoy books that have the story of a person or people at the center. That means I’m drawn to memoir, personal essays and biography, although with the caveat that I like those genres when they look outward and say something about history, culture or science. Conversely, I usually dislike books that purport to be about something else—history, culture or science—and end up telling us more about the writer than they do about the subject (though not always: I did like Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks).

So, in rough order of publication.

1. The Autobiography of Malcom X, by Malcolm X and Alex Haley (1965).

Read more... )

2. My Own Country, by Abraham Verghese (1994).

Read more... )

3. Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, by Atul Gawande.

Read more... )

4. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard (2006).

Read more... )

5. The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel. (2009).

Read more... )

6. Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest>, by Wade Davis (2011).

Read more... )

7. Men We Reaped: A Memoir, by Jessmyn Ward (2013).

Read more... )

Books that almost made the list: Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain; Retribution: The Battle for Japan 1944-1945, by Max Hastings (2007); The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order, by Joan Wickersham (2008); and Defiance: The Bielski Partisans by Nechama Tec (1994)

So there you go: war, race and medicine. My obsessions, let me show them to you.

I'd love to hear what your favorites are, too!

Books 2013

Jan. 6th, 2014 10:03 pm
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Last year, I recommended more non-fiction than fiction; this year things seem to have tilted the other way.

The most remarkable thing about this year was that I (unexpectedly) listened to 18 of the 21 Aubrey-Maturin books. They gave me huge amounts of pleasure and got me through some hard times (and some long runs). For the record, my favorites were HMS Surprise and Desolation Island, though the best scene belongs to The Far Side of the World. I also liked The Commodore a lot, but I ran out of steam with The 100 Days. Maybe in 2014!

Six novels I’d recommend if you wanted something well-written and absorbing to read:

Atkinson, Life After Life: A life lived over and over again in the first half of the twentieth century. It sounds like a confusing concept, but the book is very clear and unfussy, and the period details are great.

Garey, Too Bright to Hear, to Loud to See: About a man descending into the vortex of his own mental illness. Again, it sounds maudlin and upsetting, but the writing is dry and clear, and makes an unsympathetic character very compelling.

Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: About Chechnya: a post-apocalyptic landscape that really existed. Again—this seems to be my theme this year—a situation that could be melodramatic and maudlin is instead described with dry, careful detail and real humanity. This one is the only book on the list that made me cry.

Meyer, The Son: Three generations of a cutthroat Texas family. The voices are amazing, though the scenarios are brutal. It’s an interesting book for being obsessed with masculinity and sodden with testosterone, but not misogynistic. The female characters are complicated and put up with no bullshit.

Wein, Code Name Verity: A spy and a pilot. Women acting heroically. Epic girl friendship.

Wilson, Alif the Unseen: Science fiction that takes place during the Arab spring. What the Neuromancer books would have been like if they’d drawn on Islam rather than Caribbean folklore, and with hugely sympathetic portrayals of religious women.

(if I were expanding the list to novels I think are very good and worth reading, I’d include The Woman Upstairs, which I actually think is a more thoughtful and honest novel than Life After Life, but it’s too upsetting/provocative to recommend for enjoyment)

Fink, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. A page-turner, but I found it really upsetting, for reasons I describe here and here.

Finkel, Thank You For Your Service: The sequel, as it were, to The Good Soldiers. Again, compelling but really upsetting. As much about class in the US and the inadequacy of mental health care as it is about PTSD. The chapters on military suicide are chilling. (more here)

Guwande, Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science: A classic in the field. Every essay stays with you.

Hastings, Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-1945: Hastings is a great (though opinionated) writer. Illuminating chapters about arenas I knew nothing about, like Manchuria.

Small, Stitches: A graphic memoir, also on medical themes. I don’t usually read graphic novels, etc, but this one was really powerful.

The full list
nb: most of these I liked—I don’t tend to finish things that I don’t like or that don’t hold my attention.
nb: an * indicates that I listened to the audiobook.
nb: I haven't done this as tidily as I did last year, sorry!

Read more... )

Read more... )

Hope 'bout y'all? Favorites of 2013?
ariadnes_string: (Blu)
That time again, folks—chime in here or at your own journal. I have no fun pictures or links—but there is TV for once.

What I’m Reading

The Far Side of the World, Patrick O’Brian (Aubrey #10) (audiobook). Almost finished with it, too. Some truly crazy shit happens in this one, almost none of which made it into the movie (for obvious reasons, mostly). There are a surprising number of comic episodes (surprising--see what I did there, in a Jack-like way ;)), which appear to be just POB flexing his writing chops, which are considerable. I’m not complaining; the whole thing is a delight. This is the one where, like Keats, they all declaim upon the delights of first reading Chapman's Homer. There is also a sailor named Macbeth.

When I started listening to these things, I couldn’t believe there were 21. Now, I can’t believe there are only 21. They seem to be dominating my year.

I haven’t cracked the spine of a print book since I finished the Kate Atkinson below. Busy and unpleasant week so far, sadly.

What I Just Finished

Treason’s Harbour, Patrick O’Brian (Aubreyad #9) (audiobook). Nothing to say about that I didn’t say last week. I liked this one, and was sorry to see Jack and Stephen leave the Mediterranean, even if they weren’t.

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. I liked this (witness the fact that I made it through all 500+ pages, unlike 80% of the books I start)—and I absolutely recommend it, especially as a beach or plane novel, or for a book club.

cut for length, not spoilers )

What I’m Reading Next

Dunno. Life After Life made me want to read more about the Blitz, so I have Sarah Waters’s Night Watch on hold at the library—but I’ve tried to read it before and found it hard going. I’ve read good reviews of The Woman Upstairs, so want to give that a try, too.


Now that you can stream Top of the Lake on Netflix, I feel I should make a proper rec for it. Watch it, if you can face the sexual violence—it’s very, very good. In the end, it’s harsh, but not dark, if that makes sense, with much more faith in human resilience and agency than lots of things I’ve watched lately. The acting is superb, and it’s an interesting meditation on the problem of justice outside the law. And, like I said a few weeks ago, for a show that is so centrally about rape, it’s very sex positive, with a broader representation of the shapes and practices of desire than, again, you’re likely to see elsewhere.

I also saw all of Broadchurch, which I also recommend, if you have a chance. The plot was so similar to Top of the Lake it was almost confusing. Of the two, however, Broadchurch was by far the more conservative and the more depressing. I’ve already ranted to [personal profile] thirdbird about the finale, so I’ll spare you, but up until the penultimate episode, it was damn fine TV.

I’m not sure I’m even going to say anything about the season/series finale of Southland (tragic? Inevitable?), but I’d love to hear what you thought of it, if you watched it.

What should I watch now? I seem to be out of miniseries.
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I’m still spamming y’all, because I was boy-free last weekend, and that meant I went to the movies and actually finished a book.

I took myself to see Argo, which I enjoyed enormously and recommend to all.

more about Argo, no particular spoilers )

I also finished Kevin Powers’s The Yellow Birds, a first novel (the author isn’t 30 yet) about the Iraq war that’s been getting a lot of press. Seriously, you’d think the book would collapse under its accolades: Tom Wolfe, Ann Patchett and Colm Toibin all blurb it across the front cover, and there's more on the back. It's a slim volume!

But the book pretty much holds up to its praise.

more about the novel, no real spoilers )

Still, a really amazing achievement, especially when you consider Powers came back from Iraq without a college degree, went through college on the GI Bill and then on to an MFA in poetry and then this novel, in about five years.

Besides, even the Iceman is talking about PTSD these days, so there you go.
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Monday afternoon, when we were still exhausted from travel, the boys and I saw The Bourne Legacy, which we enjoyed very much, though I may have to go back and see it without small squirmy persons who I have to take to the bathroom during crucial character bits.

more, w/ very minor spoilers )

Son #2 and I watched Grimm 2x01 and enjoyed it, though there was so much new story arc dumpage I think I might have to go back and take notes. Monroe, as usual, was the best part, with his running commentary on Nick’s maternal reunion.

I finally finished Generation Kill, both series and audiobook (with the addition of reading Wright’s 2008 afterward in the print book).

my usual grumpiness about such things )

I finished both seasons of The Killing and have only about 15 minutes to go in Blackout. I may have exhausted all TV dramas about corrupt mayors in extremely rainy cities. If you have any suggestions, though, please let me know!

hope everyone has a great weekend!
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I read a haunting novel on the train back and forth from DC: The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau (his first novel, published in 2012).

It’s about a boy who is “rescued” from a country like Afghanistan and given asylum in the US after his village and family are destroyed by an American military operation. The boy Younis/Jonas tries to build a new life in the US, but is plagued by unresolved trauma/memories of how exactly he survived the devastation. His story intersects with that of a missing American soldier whose mother is trying to find him..

I would absolutely recommend it, but mostly if you have an interest in books about PTSD and dissociation, which it's quite good on.

lengthy literary musing, but also images and descriptions of battlefield death )
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On our most recent road trip, I finished listening to Mockingjay

herewith are my embarrassing reactions (they embarrassed my son, anyway )
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Also on my road trip I finished listening to Catching Fire (very well read, like the first, by Carolyn McCormack).

Herewith follows a recap of my reactions:

minor spoilers )

Onto the third! (and for once I don't want to be spoiled!)
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In which I catch up with the rest of the world

By seeing Avengers and reading The Hunger Games (okay, listening to it, on audiobook).

y'all already knew that I wasn't a comic book gal, right? )

and there's a reason I don't read much YA fiction )

I know, I know, I'm a grump.

In more important news, there is a masterlist now for Running Hot II, with fics from H50, White Collar, Sherlock and SPN. There are many more fabulous prompts from many fandoms including Avangers awaiting fills at the post. We also have AO3 collections for this year and last year. If you wrote something last year and posted it to the Archive you can edit it to include it in last year’s collection (and please do!!)
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The boys got Men in Black out of the library. I’d forgotten how wonderful Tommy Lee Jones is in it.

The River

spoilers through 1x07 )

Grimm 1x14

spoilers )

Let me also rec you a lovely m/m romance novel, Bonds of Earth. This is straight-to-the-vein h/c id!fic.

more )

Also relevant to your interests: another great Casey-centric (with Casey/Walsh friendship) Unusuals fic, this one by [ profile] topaz119

Happy weekend, folks!
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Usually, when I have a free Sunday morning, I try to get up reasonably early (~7:30) and go to Mysore. But this weekend I practiced the yoga pose of sleep. I was out latish Sat. night at a work-related dinner, and then up even later finishing my [ profile] purimgifts fic, and so didn’t go to sleep until 1:30. I woke up at 7:30 or so, and thought screw this. And I didn’t wake up again until 10:30. Can’t remember the last time I did that. It might have been in high school.

Anyway, 28 hours of freedom is not so much when you spend 9 sleeping and 4 at a work dinner, so I hardly caught up at all on TV. I did watch, out of curiosity, the House episode in which Jeremy Renner plays a dissolute rock singer. And enjoyed it very much—I forgot how much I like S4 House and I don’t think I’d seen that one before.

Nor did I realize that this image, that you see all the time on the interwebz, if from House of all things!

Also Grimm
spoilers )

Have two book recs, though (both about doctors, as it turns out).

My Own Country, by Abraham Verghese.

cut for length )

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
cut for length )

Even though I'm going to be out of town from basically March 23rd to April 1, I signed up for remix again. Possibly stupidly.
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I had another free weekend, for ongoing Familial Reasons, and for those same reasons spent a lot of time on Saturday purposefully trying not to think about stuff. You know the drill: run, movie, TV—though I did manage to have a dinner with a friend this time.

Luckily, A Dangerous Method was still playing in town. And you know, I have to say that, despite the fact that

cut for length, not spoilers )

Ann Patchett's State of Wonder )

It does however, often make me think of this:

I watched a couple of episodes of The Unusuals because there it is, on Netflix, and giggled over the fact that one of Jeremy Renner’s very first lines is, “This isn’t a Bourne movie, you know.”

ETA: I love the South, you know I love the South. What I don’t love? The boys’ school being delayed two hours on the strength of an eighth of an inch of snow that only stuck to the freaking grass.
ariadnes_string: (Blu)
why yes, I do want to discuss Homeland 1x07, how did you guess? (spoilers) )

In other news, my audiobook for running and driving at the moment is Neal Stephanson’s Cryptonomicon,

blathering on about books )

Also, I was overcome with a wave of Anglophilia when I signed up for Yuletide, and only requested British books and shows (The Hour, Whitechapel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Regeneration). I offered some US stuff though!

I have been amusing myself by scrolling through the requests from time to time, and being tickled to death that multiple people are requesting fic for “Jane Austen’s Fight Club” and “Feminist Ryan Gosling.” Viral video rules, apparently.

Happy Friday, folks!
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Long post is long—sorry!

So, I listened to all 24 hours of Wolf Hall and I loved every minute of it. Mostly I listened in the car (I drive a lot—mostly 10-15 minute trips from pillar to post) but some while I was running.

(and so, strangely, the novel was good for my fitness level, between my new Vibram five fingers, which look like this:

And kind of make me resemble this:

But make running less painful for me than it ever has been before (though, sadly, no faster)—anyway, between the shoes and the narrative, I actually wanted to run!)

It’s a kind of strange experience to listen to narrative as you run, though. The novel has some very sad parts, and I happened to listen to those as I was running during the last heat of the summer. So there I was slogging along in my blue shoes, pouring sweat and crying. I’ve been listening to Regeneration for the past few days, and I’m sure my face is fixed in a permanent sympathetic grimace.

I’m an aural person at the best of times, and I think in some ways it’s easier for me to process and remember books I hear than books I read. Also, of course, listening is slower. So I found that I had a greater awareness of the novel’s technical achievements than I think I would have done if I’d read (all 600 pp. of) it.

Which of course my book group had not interest in talking about , so I’m just going to go on about it for a minute now, feel free to scroll by.

rambling about Wolf Hall )

So then I wrote a little Downton Abbey snippet last week about WWI war wounds. And that made me want to re-read Pat Barker’s Regeneration. But, things being as they are, that means re-listening. Anyway, the novel completely holds up (it came out in 1991), though I expect it wouldn’t be everyone’s first choice for what to listen to in the car. It may, however, have spoiled my enjoyment of Downton Abbey. Because really, talk about two different perspectives about what was going on in the north of England in 1916! In Regeneration, women in service are telling off their employers right and left and going to work in the munitions factories—just for example.

spoilers for Downton Abbey 2x03 )
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So this was an enjoyable episode, filled with lots of Harvey/Mike byplay (though I thought the Rachel plot was kind of stupid).

I was particularly fascinated by the semiotics of high school sports:
Read more... )

I haven't been reading all that much in the fandom, but I have stumbled across some good fic:

Can I Have It In Writing? by [ profile] entangled_now "Writing on the Body" (Harvey/Mike PG-13)

and, since I know some of you like h/c as much as I do: No Florence Nightingale by [ profile] zinfic (Harvey, Louis, gen).

Also, I've added Wolf Hall to my pile of unread books, since my rarely-attended book group is reading it. Has anybody read it? I read the first 20pp and enjoyed them, but then realized that no way was I going to read 600 non-work pages before the end of Sept., so got the audiobook to listen to in the car.


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