November Reading Wrap Up

Happy Belated Thanksgiving!!

This month was a slow reading month for me and, for the more astute members of the audience, not at all full of what I had planned to read for this month. Nevertheless, here is my November wrap up.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins

In Stephen Collins’ rhyme-laden graphic novel, the land of Here is perfect. Not a hair is out of place and everything is in order. There, on the other hand, is a dangerous and chaotic place, where anything goes. Luckily, an ocean separates Here from There, so all the villagers in Here can remain orderly and beardless. Beardless, that is, until amateur artist Dave (who’s completely bald) develops an uncontrollable, terrifyingly thick monster. After Dave, all hell breaks loose.

At once hilarious and profound, Collin’s exploration of uniqueness inside a standardized, media-saturated world (not unlike that in which we now fear) is a breathtaking achievement. The art ranges in quality but is generally beautiful and engaging. The story is illogical and heartfelt, and the rhyme scene Collins employed is charming and surprisingly successful. The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil is full of a world of characters, few of which matter, but all of which are interesting and fun to engage with. The ending is touching and tear-jerking, making this graphic novel one to be celebrated and revered. (4.5 Stars)

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Doesn’t this picture of the Lenin statue in Fremont just ask to be after this book?

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold*

As a parent, how unconditional is the love you have for your child? Would you love them if they were gay? If they became a teenage parent? If they stormed into their high school and viciously murdered 13 people and seriously injured 24 others before killing themselves? This last one is a question Sue Klebold has been wrestling with for the past 17 years. It hasn’t so much been would you love, but how can you? Her memoir seeks to humanize Dylan, not so much to excuse him, but to wake other parents up – to encourage the asking of tough questions and acknowledge the ways in which we, as society, have let our children down.

Sue Klebold is a gifted, if inexperienced writer. Her prose is poetic and haunting, but her organization and editing needs fine tuning. She repeats several stories and ideas, seemingly lost in her own head, which, while not necessarily enjoyable, does present a powerful metaphor for the chaos she is enveloped in. A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy is a courageous and moving portrait of a family torn apart, and a grim reminder to not only hug the ones we love, but look them in the eye and ask, honestly, how they are doing. (3.5 Stars).

 

The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome by Alondra Nelson

DNA is most famous for its miraculous crime-fighting and medical help, but less recognized is the little mass’s genealogical uses. Perhaps just as important as its more famous history, Dr. Alondra Nelson explores DNA’s role in the black community, specifically as it applies to healing and recognition of American slavery. An emerging, if surprising, tool in the fight against racism, deoxyribonucleic acid has once again proven its worth.

It would be a mistake to begin this review anywhere other than with the cover design (Bob Kosturko). The longer I looked at it, the more I liked it, and I always felt smart and cool carrying it with me. As for the insides, understand I sat in on a lecture of Dr. Nelson’s in which she pretty much summed up this book, so I skimmed this more than read it. Nelson does a great job of making her science relatively easy to understand, even if her delivery is dry and overly academic. Her observations are acute and her subject matter, interesting. She seeks to tackle a great depth of intersecting social and biological sciences, and is generally successful. While this book was interesting, I think there are better investments for readers interested in race and genetics. (3 Stars).

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View from the plane ride back to school after contracting pancreatitis from Thanksgiving.

 

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

Lucia Berlin saw moderate acclaim during her life (1936-2004) for her inventive and affecting short stories. Aside from work as a beloved faculty member of the University of Colorado Boulder (sko buffs!! – I’m joking, I’m a rams fan. Anyway…), Berlin largely went unnoticed until her editor, Stephen Emerson, complied this collection, earning Berlin a well deserved spot in the New York Times  10 Best Books of 2015. Her stories deal primarily with the ordinary life in the American Southwest and South America, and always have wit, sizzle, or a shock to them. They feature strong characters in the forms of nuns, hitchhikers, mental patients, and prisoners, and establish Berlin as one of the greats.

As has become my tradition, each story in this collection was (briefly) individually reviewed here. As a whole, I loved this collection. Berlin is one of the most gifted writers of recent memory, and it is both a shame and an embarrassment that she remained so unknown for so long. Editor Stephen Emerson gave her a beautiful posthumous tribute, in that each of his selected pieces were well done, and flowed nicely from one story to the next. The biggest critique I have is with Rodrigo Corral and Colleen Griffiths’ jacket. In all though, this was a true accomplishment, and I feel a sort of peace with finally knowing the genius and artist that was Lucia Berlin. (4 Stars).

 

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans**

Christian Church leaders have been shocked and reeling from the loss of the Millennial base in their Sunday sanctuaries. Evans, a popular blogger and New York Times Bestselling Author, turns her focus to this problem, which, for Evans, is personal. Overwhelmed and fed up with the big church politics and corruption, her and her husband Dan left their home church, and became nomads, frequently sleeping in on Sundays and changing churches week to week. Searching for Sunday is her quest to discover why she feels the way she does about the Church.

Part theology, part criticism, and part memoir, Searching for Sunday is surprisingly successful in its many pursuits. It is a hard, but necessary, look at the modern church’s failings. This is also one of the best written non-fiction books I’ve read in a while. Evans writes about her pain beautifully and palpably. I learned an incredible amount from this book, and it reached down into the doubting, unsure part of me, to validate all the facets of emotions I was feeling. This is a true winner and a pleasure to read (5 Stars).

Thanks for reading! Hope you all are able to check these out!!! Leave a comment and tell me what you read this month, and feel free to leave suggestions for what I should check out this December!

*READ MY REACTION TO A MOTHER’S RECKONING HERE 

**A REACTION TO SEARCHING FOR SUNDAY IS COMING SOON!

Follow Ben on TwitterTumblr, and read along with him on Goodreads.

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