68. The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth
Worth recounts tales from her life as a midwife in 1950s London. Following World War II, many in London were trying to recover and living a hard scrabble existence, but thanks to the National Health Service they still had access to medical care. Trained as a nurse mid-wife Worth helped take care of many poor Londoners during their pregnancies and through their births. She had a lot of interesting stories to tell and did a good job of portraying what it was like to perform her job during this time. I give it a 6 out of 10.
67. The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner
I unintentionally read this book right after finishing Top of the Rock by Warren Littlefield, which was kind of interesting given that they both cover stories surrounding network television, though obviously from very different angles. Ruth is a television screenwriter trying to sell her first show. As a child she was in a car accident with her parents, which lead to their death and her facial disfigurement. Afterwards she was raised by her grandmother. Now she is trying to tell a twist on their story in her show The Next Best Thing. However, when the show gets picked up by the network Ruth slowly realizes that her dream may not be all that it’s cracked up to be when the network begins picking the show apart and creating something she’s not sure she even wants to be a part of. It was an enjoyable read that I think very accurately portrayed the mixed emotions that can occur when your dreams come true but don’t wind up being all that you had hoped for. I give it a 7 out of 10.
66. Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV by Warren Littlefield
Top of the Rock is written by Warren Littlefield, who was the NBC President of Entertainment during it’s stint at the top of network television during the 1990s and early 2000s. It’s a behind the scenes look at how all of NBC’s Must See TV shows came into being. It was written in a way I have never seen a book put together before. It was if Littlefield (or his coauthor) interviewed a bunch of people involved and then pulled chunks out of the transcripts and stitched them together to tell the story. The entire thing was set up like So and So person’s name in bold followed by a paragraph or two about a topic followed by the next person’s statement about it, etc. It was actually done well enough that the story flowed, but I definitely found it an odd way to put a book together.
I being the television nerd that I am who loved many of the shows talked about in the book like Cheers and Friends really enjoyed it. It’s obviously not something that I would recommend for anyone who doesn’t care that much about television. It also made me sad for the state that NBC is in today, though many poorly rated shows that I love (Friday Night Lights, Chuck, Community) have only managed to stay on the air because NBC is in such a wretched state. Hopefully one day they’ll be able to return to some sort of their former glory. I give it a 7 out of 10.
65. Gold by Chris Cleave
I read this book right as the London Olympics were ending, so it was very apropos. I really loved this book. Chris Cleave has a beautiful way of writing the English language. I remember adoring his turn of phrase in Little Bee, and he continues to do so in Gold. The story revolves around Olympic cyclists Kate and Zoe who are both friends and competitors. Eight years ago Kate gave up the chance for Olympic glory for her daughter Sophie. Now with the London Olympics on the horizon Sophie is sick with cancer. Will Kate finally win Olympic gold even under the stress of taking care of her ill daughter or will Zoe take advantage of the situation to try and outrace her past in her own quest to win? I’ve seen a number of people compare Gold disfavorably to Little Bee, but I liked it just as much. I give it an 8 out of 10.
64. Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?: A Mennonite Finds Faith, Meets Mr. Right, and Solves Her Lady Problems by Rhoda Janzen
I broke my Augusten Burroughs rule by reading this book. What is the Augusten Burroughs rule you may ask? It is the rule that I don’t read more than one memoir by any given author. It seems to often these days that authors manage to sell a memoir based on some life experience, wind up on the bestseller list and then decide that if people enjoyed reading about their lives that much the first time then the world must be clamoring for yet more tales from their lives. Mostly I’m not. I instituted this rule after I finished reading Augusten Burrough’s second memoir despite the fact that he kept churning them out. I don’t need to read that much about anyone’s life and mostly these things like most sequels wind up with severely diminishing returns or retreads of the previous book.
However, I got an advanced readers copy of this book so decided I would go ahead and read it as it gave me an excuse to finally read Janzen’s first book Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, which had been on my to-read list for years. I actually wound up enjoying this book much more than that one, which made it rare exception to the reasons I instituted the Augusten Burroughs rule. I think I enjoyed it more though because it resonated with me personally. Janzen writes a lot in this book about reconciling her liberal leanings and skepticism with her faith. Though raised a Mennonite, she abandoned that church as an adult. After marrying an evangelical Christian she begins attending his church and converts to the faith. I don’t share all of her views, but as someone who often struggles to balance my own beliefs especially in the face of what others inside and outside of Christianity think they should be I found her thoughts on the matter to be interesting. I give it a 7 out of 10.
63. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
I had this book sitting on my to-read list for a really long time and finally got around to reading it after I got an advanced readers copy of her follow-up memoir, Does This Church Make Me Look Fat. I actually liked that book better than this one, but I’ll get to that in my review of that book. Janzen was raised as a Mennonite but abandoned the church as an adult. In this book Janzen shares her experiences of returning to live in the Mennonite community she grew up in after her bi-polar husband leaves her for a man. I would have liked a little more about the Mennonites themselves because I never really got a good sense of what it means to be a Mennonite despite the fact that the Mennonite culture is one of the things that is supposed to be a focal point of the memoir. Janzen is a good writer though and I enjoyed many of her stories. I give it a 6 out of 10.
62. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman
Kinnaman presents research as to why young Christians ages 16-29, who have grown up in the church are leaving it. He examines three groups of people who he terms as Nomads, Prodigals, and Exiles. Nomads still consider themselves Christian but no longer attend church. Prodigals have walked away from their faith, but historical research indicates they are group likely to return to church when they are older and begin raising families. Exiles are Christians but feel stuck between church and culture. I had found his categories to be too broad and almost seemingly overlapping. Additionally the titles he gave them didn’t really make much sense to me based on the way he described them. He uses them throughout the book, which thus made it very difficult for me to follow who he was talking about much of the time as I didn’t want to spend the energy to keep looking up which of his “rules” applied to which group.
The book is really aimed at church leadership to make them aware of why they are losing the younger generation (if they even really are) and what they can do to bring them back to the church. Mostly what I got out of this book was that if I was attending any of the churches that need this instruction manual I would be running far and fast away from their churches as well. I am a Christian, but a liberal. This book is addresses the fact that a lot of very conservative points of view are what is driving young Christians away. I can’t imagine this book influencing anyone in conservative Christian leadership to change their views in order to keep a younger generation invested in their church. This book is definitely for a very specialized audience. I give it a 4 out of 10.
61. Those We Love Most by Lee Woodruff
Those We Love Most is the story about a family struck by tragedy when their young son dies after being hit by a car while riding his bike to school. Covering the year and a half following the accident it focuses on the the parents and grandparents as they try to pick up their lives and move on after the tragedy. Woodruff does an excellent job of portraying how difficult it is to move forward after losing a child, while showing that each person grieves their losses differently. I give it a 6 out of 10.
60. A Chronicle of Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I read this book for one of my book clubs. It’s a short little novella chronicling the events leading up to the murder of Santiago Nasar. The unnamed narrator of the story has returned to his small hometown (most likely in Colombia) 27 years after the murder to piece together what exactly happened on that fateful day. In talking to the town’s people he creates a story that shows the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, while also painting a picture of a death that seemed destined to happen.
I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was beautifully written and even in such a short book filled with a lot of characters I really felt a sense of place. It also provided a lot of fodder for a great book club discussion. I highly recommend picking it up. I give it a 9 out of 10.
59. Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire
Abby is a freshman in college who has moved across the country with her best friend in order to escape a past that she is not proud of and wants to put behind her. However, after meeting Travis, the campus king of the one-night stands and the most talented boxer in the campus’ underground boxing scene she worries that she is getting sucked back into the life she was running away from.
I am not proud of the fact that I actually finished reading this book. I had a horribly co-dependent relationship with it. Abby and Travis had a horrible relationship. He was a womanizing, stalkerish abuser, though the fact that he never hit her just lots of other people among other violent acts was supposed to make that ok. She seemed to be leading him on and pushing him to the brink over and over again, not that any of this justifies his actions. Also, Abby’s supposed best friend continues to try and push them together and blaming Abby for the fact that Travis is acting out because when they are together he’s a different, better person a sentiment I found just gross. And yet somehow I couldn’t put the book down. I had to follow this horrible relationship down the rabbit hole.
I obviously was taken with the book enough to finish reading it and in a really short amount of time as well, but I have a hard time recommending it to anyone else because the characters are so awful, and I feel like the book is putting out a really horrible message about how women should be treated in relationships or otherwise. I will split the difference and rate it a 5 out of 10.