Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book Review: Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of the 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine by Hector Tobar

Non-fiction. I read this in April 2015, immediately after I read The Southern Tiger by Ricardo Lagos, to further my understanding of Chile and because my department chair recommended it to me. She is also an avid reader but tends to read mostly fiction, she is not terribly fond of non-fiction, so I thought if she found this particular piece of non-fiction to be a must-read that I definitely should give it a go. And it definitely is a must-read, even if you do not remember all the news broadcasts about the miners from 2010. I found the BBC site on the miners to be incredibly useful while reading the book, I kept it up on my smartphone while reading the book so that I could see pictures of the mine/miners and illustrations of the condition of the mine and the various pieces of equipment used to rescue them: I also found out after reading the book that is has been made into a movie called The 33 that is set to be released this November:

This book is successful because it is a story about the men, their experiences in the mine before the accident, mostly during it, the people who rallied for them and worked to rescue them, and how their lives turned out afterward. It does not read like a news report but almost like a compelling novel. It is hard to put down, you become heavily invested in the lives of the men, what they are doing to survive, and discovering their personalities along the way. If you want to know what really happened to the miners you can do no better than reading this book. I watched a trailer for The 33 and although it does look interesting, it seems very Hollywood, turning it into a sort of action flick (Juliette Binoche is a fine actress but not remotely Chilean or even South American in any way). 

This book is definitely one of the most compelling and interesting works of non-fiction I have ever read, I recommend it to all. I often read this in the dark on my Nook Glowlight, and I think that probably helped the realism for me: I was in the dark just like the men; but, I was free to get out of the dark as soon as morning came, I was free to go outside, to get fresh water, to see my loved ones in-person. It was an interesting juxtaposition for me. I suggest reading it the same way if you have the means to do so.

And so it goes...

Book Review: The Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Peaceful and Democratic Future by Ricardo Lagos

Non-fiction. I read this for the faculty book group "Read Around the World" at the college where I teach, in March of 2015. I thought it was an excellent book! Before reading this I knew very little about Chile and its history, its struggle for democracy, and the part it has to play in international relations. Although there is much political content in this book, it did not read like a political speech or diatribe, Ricardo Lagos did an exceptional job at making it relatable for the average reader.

Ricardo Lagos is a former president of Chile, so he was able to provide a unique insider perspective on many issues, including but not limited to: the dictator Augusto Pinochet and the terrible deeds committed during his regime, the brave campaign waged to achieve democracy in Chile (they have the commercial and Lagos's famous T.V. interview on YouTube if you look them up), George Bush and the decisions he and others made that lead to the invasion of Iraq (mind-blowing stuff), why Chilean wine is so delicious, and why the world needs to pay attention to these emerging democratic nations in South America, they are going to be rather important I'd say.

I cannot recommend this one enough, I found it absolutely engaging and interesting in every way! I hope that more former leaders can write books like this in the future, ones that are informative, thought-provoking, educational without being dry, and perspective changing for those of us who are not in-the-know.

And so it goes...

Book Review: Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

Non-fiction. This is sort of a memoir written by the two men showing their different perspectives on how their lives were before they met, how it happened, and their friendship afterward. It was originally for the non-fiction book club at my library in November of 2013 that I missed, so I finally got around to it in March of this year (2015). It was an interesting read, I would recommend it, but I did not find it 100% life altering as some have claimed.

I found out quite a bit about the continuation of tenant farming and lack of education for African-Americans in the south, well into the second half of the 20th-century, which did astound me. It provided insight into what it is like to be homeless, from Denver's perspective, as somebody experiencing it, not just observing it. I enjoyed Denver's portions of the work immensely. Ron Hall's sections however, seemed less genuine to me, really pushing the agenda that God chose his wife as an angel among us, despite their wealthy and comfortable surroundings, their cushy and easy life. I wish she had been able to contribute to the book herself, it would have been nice to read what she thought and felt about the situations. Perhaps then it would have seemed less cliche. As it stands, although I believe Ron Hall was trying to be genuine, his parts still felt a bit hokey and rehearsed, but that is just my opinion.

The book is worth the time it takes to read it, and I have recommend it to at least one other person, but I still cannot understand why several people told me I had to read it, that it was so very me. Sometimes I think a book merely has to mention art somewhere in it and everybody assumes I will love it just because of that: sure I am an art historian by education and training, but that does not mean I love absolutely every piece of artwork that has ever been made, nor does it mean that I love everything to do with the artworld through all time.

I would recommend this book on the strength of the portions written by Denver and his story. The chapters he wrote and the story of his life are incredible and worth your time.

And so it goes...

Book Review: Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard by Dr. Laura Bates

Non-fiction. Memoir. I read this in March of 2015 because it was posted on one of the digital book databases my library uses, as part of "Big Library Read" (, and it sounded interesting, so why not. My husband loves the show Lockup and I often watch it with him (marathons on Fri. and Sat. night if you are interested). This was an incredible read, it really does show the power that literature and theater have to change peoples lives.

The essence of it is that Dr. Laura Bates spends time at an Indiana Federal Prison and introduces lessons on Shakespeare to a group of supermax prisoners who cannot leave their cells (solitary confinement). The process most profoundly affects the inmate Larry Newton, who eventually starts to write lessons with Dr. Bates and becomes a leader for the other inmates. It is Shakespeare so it is theater, it is meant to be a production and not just read, so they do finally start writing and having performances of their own Shakespeare inspired tales, translated for today's world and into something the prisoners can relate to their own lives, their own mistakes, their inner demons.

This was a marvelous work, and I am glad the "Big Library Read" chose it since otherwise I may never have seen or heard of the title. If you love Shakespeare or hate it, this book will give you reasons to consider the works in a whole new light: not bored teenagers wondering why their mean teacher made them read Romeo and Juliet but life changing contemplation by people who much of the world has given up on, who can really and truly inspire you too.

And so it goes...

Book Review: The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw

Non-fiction. I read this in March 2015. It is very hard to write a review for this one, I think everybody should read it, so I am heavily biased about this one. I have so many highlights and notes on my Nook copy of it that I think my notes have notes. It is one of the best books I have read for trying to understand why the WWII generation was considered the greatest and why they became the measuring stick for all generations to follow. It does not glorify war, it takes an honest look at the people of that generation: those who grew up during the Great Depression, sacrificed again for the sake of their family/loved  ones/fellow countrymen/ideals of a fair and just world, and then rebuilt their lives and shaped the future when the war was finally over.

Tom Brokaw is a straightforward writer with no pretense. He spent time interviewing people who were from that generation and involved in the war effort in various ways, including the women who went to work in the factories, grew victory gardens, and mourned the deaths of husbands, brothers, and fathers. This book is their stories. It is not a dry and historical treatment of WWII but the stories of the people who lived it, who did not complain, and who had no sense of entitlement. 

As this generation is growing older and passing away, it is incredibly important that we preserve their stories, that we understand who they were as people, and that they did what they had to do: none of them believes they were special or that they deserve praise. My grandparents were all of this generation, my parents were essentially WWII babies (born in 41 and 42), and I think part of the work ethic that I have is due in large part that, to being raised with those ideals. I think everybody should read this book because it is uplifting, it is utterly devoid of entitlement and selfishness, and it inspires us to be better people.

And so it goes...

Book Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Fiction. I read this one in March 2015 because it is another one that was selling like mad and was on everybody's hold list. It is a mystery and a thriller set in Australia amongst the mommy culture. It fits well as a good read for an American audience because they can relate to the mommy culture and its judgments: who is the best looking, who is the most devoted mommy, who is in the "it" group of super mommies, who is the outcast single mom who doesn't do all the mommy things properly for suburbia, and so forth. 

The main characters are interesting and the work will keep you guessing, two musts for a decent thriller. I could sympathize with each character and the elements of their lives, even those that are quite different from me (which is pretty much most of them). I always hate reading the bits about domestic violence, so be forewarned, it is in there, but the way the character explains and deals with it was eye opening for me. It was not left as just blank violence but explained from her perspective in an honest manner. I have trouble reviewing thrillers because I do not want to ruin it for anybody else, so I will end with saying it is a good one, well worth your time to read it. There is a reason why this one sold so many copies and is on so many people's library hold list.

And so it goes...

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Non-fiction. This one is a must read! I read it for the March 2015 meeting of my library's non-fiction book club. It was a perfect fit for a book club, there was much to discuss, we all enjoyed it, and we have kept bringing it up in our meetings and when we see each other outside of book club. The college where I teach originally selected this for a campus-wide read in 2013-2014, but I was so busy in my first year as full-time that I put off reading it. As I told the book club, sometimes I feel like we do not read certain books until it is the right time for us, for some other reason than logic can explain, and I think if I had read it then, back in 2013, it would not have been the right time. When we read this for book club in 2015 I was ready, and it is an amazing and appalling story.

Medical science and ethics are a fuzzy area, as this book proves, especially back when they took her cells without her knowledge the 1950s. Most people who took any biology classes at all have heard of HeLa cells, the basis for cell research in the US and around the world, but most (like me) do not know they were named after a person He(nrietta) La(cks). Most people (like me) also probably do not know that the Hippocratic oath is a sort of suggestion and is not held up as law, or that its actual wording is not really followed at all. Try looking it up, I did, fascinating stuff. Most people (like me) probably do not know that pieces of their genetic material could be in use, right now, for experiments around the globe or are being kept in freezers, because when we agree to have pieces of us removed during surgery they are medical waste, garbage, and therefore we threw them away and anybody has a right to grab them and use them.

If you are even remotely interested in medical ethics, how modern medicine and the study of genetics is completely in-debt to this woman, and/or have ever wondered "what happened to my appendix when they took it out?" then this book is for you. I am not a scientist, a doctor, or involved in the medical industry and I found the book highly readable and compelling. It is much more fascinating than the book description on the jacket, I cannot recommend it enough!

And so it goes...

Blog Awards

Here are a few awards this blog has received thanks to some kind folks!

Friends and Favorites Award

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One Lovely Blog Award

One Lovely Blog Award
given on 07/23/2009 by Juanita (