Books Read in July 2011

I’ll Never Be French (no matter what I do) by Mark Greenside

This is a light-hearted memoir of the author’s summer visit to Brittany, which turned into a long-term residency. Greenside chronicles his adventures as he settles into the slow-paced village life and decides to purchase and renovate an old house. The comparisons between the French and American ways of living are amusing and insightful.

Outbreak by Robin Cook

This book was exceedingly similar to Coma–same plot,  different disease–down to the female protagonist who is new to her career field, the boss/caring figure who turns out to be the criminal, and the bumbling thugs who suddenly ambush her. The writing was cumbersome and the plot was predictable, and I wish I hadn’t spent the time reading it. Perhaps if I hadn’t just read Coma, I would have enjoyed it more.

I did, however, learn some interesting things about the Ebola virus and hope I never contract it. What a horrible way to die!

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

Seierstad is a Norwegian journalist who lived with an Afghan family for several months after 9/11 and recorded their stories, detailing the way they lived, married, and read. Although the bookseller, Sultan Khan, is considered progressive for the books he collects and sells and his family is wealthier than most, his family follows the traditional way of life for a Muslim Afghan. Because the author lived with the women, much of the book focuses on issues that affect women in Afghanistan: the arranged marriages of teen-aged girls to men in their forties, polygamy, the lack of education and professional opportunities, wearing burkas, and living in the family compound with limited and carefully guarded mobility. Among other things, I found this book to be enlightening about the living conditions of women in Afghanistan. According to an interview with Seierstad in 2003, “Some Afghan women said, ‘It’s like you describe, only much worse.’ ”

This book caused a firestorm of controversy and the bookseller sued Seierstad in Norwegian courts for invasion of privacy and won in July 2010. Seierstad is challenging the decision.

The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith

I greatly enjoy Alexander McCall Smith’s tales of Precious Ramotswe in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, so I was predisposed to liking The Sunday Philosophy Club; I was not disappointed. The Sunday Philosophy Club follows the musings of the intelligent and independently wealthy Isabel Dalhousie and her private, civilian investigation into the death of a young man after a concert. I love McCall Smith’s characters and the slow unraveling of the plot. I appreciated the discussions of applied ethics and I am interested in learning more about the philosophies Isabel thinks about as she examines the case. I look forward to reading more in this series and hope the Philosophy Club actually meets in a later novel, because I think it would be fun to get to know some of Isabel’s friends.

Abigail Adams by Woody Holton

I picked up this biography because I have read Adams’s famous “Remember the Ladies” letter and was interested in learning more about her and the context and results of the letter. Drawing heavily from letters written to and from Abigail, the book gives an intimate portrayal of her relationships, a detailed picture of the Revolutionary War era, and an examination of Adams’s contributions to feminism. I liked that so much of the book was in Abigail’s own words, and the quotations from her letters were gracefully integrated with the author’s text.

It took me a long time to read the book and at times I had to slog through financial details about stocks and bonds that were a little tedious to the non-financially minded, but I definitely thought this book was worth the read. I was inspired to start with a biography of George Washington and read about all of the US presidents, because I was particularly intrigued by Abigail’s assessment of Presidents Washington and Jefferson and other Founding Fathers. (Full disclosure: I haven’t started that project yet!)

Books that I read in July that I’m still reading: Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs

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