Year 11, Book 42

42. Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People by Tim Reiterman

I read this book for my book club as we were looking for a biography to read. This book was written by a reporter who was actually shot trying to leave Jonestown in Guyana. He survived, but many of the people he was traveling with did not make it through the massacre alive and of course many of the members of Jones’ People’s Temple took their own lives while this was happening.

As someone who has first hand knowledge of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple and who almost lost his life investigating this story, Reiterman is very invested in providing every detail of this story. Unfortunately it’s somewhat to the book’s detriment. He begins with Jones’ childhood and tells the story of his life up to his death. He also provides special focus on a few of the members of the People’s Temple to provide more insight into the people who followed Jones and then specifically some of the people who were the catalyst for how things ultimately ended. Ultimately though the book became bogged down in detail and it was especially saggy in the middle. A tighter telling of the story probably would have made it a better book.

It was interesting to read about Jones and how and why he was attractive to people and how he controlled them. Frighteningly the members of my book club all agreed that we could see many parallels between the personality and actions of Jones and those of Donald Trump. If you want a book that really gives you a complete look into this event from someone who lived it then this would be a good one. If however you just want to know more about what happened, but don’t need every detail then there are better books out there. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 11, Book 41

41. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Old Demons (Season 10, #4) by Christos Gage

I don’t really have much to say about this particular book other than it’s obviously the next installment of the continuing seasons of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer but in comic book form. I seem to recall enjoying this particular installment. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 11, Book 40

40. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing follows the descendants of two half-sisters from Ghana who never knew each other. The story begins just as Africans from the Gold Coast are being forced into slavery i the 1700s. Effia is married off to one of the Englishmen in Ghana working with the slave trade while her sister Esi is sold into slavery. Each chapter of the book follows a new story in their familial lines up until present day though sometimes it’s not completely linear and you jump ahead a generation before going back again in the next chapter.

I’m not usually one for short stories or books like this that are essentially a series of linked short stories, but this book was incredible. It deserves all the praise that it has been given. It is a fantastic, epic book that really underscores through the throughline of the stories how slavery from centuries ago has led us all the way to the race issues we face in our country today. I highly recommend it. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Year 11, Book 39

39. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Ruth is a long time labor and delivery nurse who has always taken pride in her work and been well thought of my her colleagues and patients, so she is initially very confused when a family asks that she be removed from the care of their son. She soon finds out that she has been explicitly forbidden from interacting with this family because they are white supremacists and she is African-American. Therefore she doesn’t know what to do when she finds herself alone with the baby a few days later during a medical emergency that leads to his death. As with every Picoult book the story is told from multiple perspectives. In this case it’s Ruth, the father of the baby, and the lawyer Ruth hires after the parents sue her over the death of their son.

Overall I enjoyed reading the book, but did sometimes question a white woman writing about this subject matter. I also had problems with the way the book ended. Picoult does address both issues in her author’s note at the end. It made me feel a little bit better about the first issue, but her example for the second still didn’t make me feel ok about the latter. She may have a real life example, but certainly the exception to how this really would have played out and it just didn’t ring true to me. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 11, Book 38

38. Why You Love Music: From Mozart to Metallica –The Emotional Power of Beautiful Sounds by John Powell

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love music, so I often enjoy reading books about the psychology of music. The first half of the book I enjoyed a lot. Powell explores in depth many psychological and sociological studies looking at things like people’s taste in music, why music can give you shivers, how music heals us, and the effect of music in movies. I found all these topics interesting and written to a general audience. In the latter half of the book he looks more at the mechanics of music using lots of musical jargon and musicology information that didn’t resonate with me. For someone who actually studies music it might be interesting, but to a lay person who just enjoys listening to music without getting into all the mechanics behind it that part was a bit of a slog. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 11, Book 37

37. Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines: The Life and Music of James Taylor by Mark Ribowsky

I’ve loved James Taylor’s music for my entire life, but I realize after reading this that I didn’t actually know much about his life. While I did learn a lot reading it, this wasn’t a very good biography. It didn’t feel very cohesive to me and it almost felt like writing a bunch of hearsay. I think partly because I had recently read Warren Zanes’ excellent biography on Tom Petty I couldn’t help compare the two. This one felt so much more slight than that one. I imagine there are probably better James Taylor biographies out there if you really want to know more about his life beyond the music. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 11, Book 36

36. First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

Meredith and Josie are sisters who dealt with their brother’s unexpected death very differently, which lead to an estrangement in their relationship. Fifteen years later Josie is a first grade teacher longing for a child of her own a feeling only intensified when she learns that the daughter of her ex-boyfriend will be in her class. Meredith does have a four year old daughter but is beginning to worry that the picture perfect life she has created for herself was something she entered to please other people and not herself. As the anniversary of their brother’s death looms and long hidden secrets begin to come to light can these sisters keep their family together and get what they want out of life?

I haven’t found Giffin’s more later adult novels as engaging as her earlier more twentysomething chick lit type ones, but I enjoyed this one. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 11, Book 35

35. Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Elizabeth and Andrew are a married couple with a teenage son in Brooklyn near their college friend and former bandmate Zoe and her wife and their teenage daughter. The adults are all going through their own brand of mid-life crisis spurred on by deciding whether they want their lives included in a biopic being written about their fourth bandmate who once burned bright as a star before dying young. Meanwhile their children have become involved with each other creating their own trouble while their parents are too busy with their own problems to pay attention. It’s a quick read that would be great for a summer beach book. The characters themselves are a big obnoxious, but well-written enough that I was able to go with it. I definitely enjoyed it more than some of Straub’s other books with completely self-involved characters. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 11, Book 34

34. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

I like everyone else in the world have been mildly obsessed with the musical Hamilton for the past year. As such I wanted to read the book that inspired Lin Manuel Miranda to write it. I kept putting it off because it was so long, but I finally decided to tackle it on a beach vacation when I knew I would have a lot of time to read it and would be able to get through it in a reasonable amount of time.

Chernow did an excellent job of writing a biography of Hamilton that made his life engaging while also looking at the beginnings of our country. It’s hard for me to disentangle the book from the musical, so I found it really interesting to see the things that Miranda took poetic license to change while also seeing the things that he pulled wholesale from history including some lyrics.

It was also really fascinating to see how as much as we like to think  our country is screwed up and completely divisive now like it has never been before that is completely untrue. It’s been like that from the very beginning. We’re still having the same fights about federal rights versus states rights that have been happening since our founding. If you’re a fan of Hamilton the musical I would high recommend reading the biography that inspired it. Even if you don’t care about the musical but are just interested in history this would be an excellent book for you as well. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 11, Book 33

33. Go Your Crohn Way: A Gutsy Guide to Living with Crohn’s Disease by Kathleen Nicholls

Using her own experiences with Crohn’s Disease, Kathleen Nicholls provides a light-hearted guide to living with the disease. I suppose to could be useful to someone who is recently diagnosed and trying to learn about how to live now that they have it. On the other hand Nicholls form of the disease is very severe and might be frightening to someone newly diagnosed who may or may not ever experience such extreme symptoms. She does try and stress that the disease manifests itself differently for everyone, but I can still see how this book might scare people. I do appreciate the addition of anything about Crohn’s Disease to the literature though. It’s not something that gets talked about or written about a lot and the more resources there are available for people who are diagnosed the better. As someone who has been living with Crohn’s for 12 years, this book didn’t have much to offer me but I can see it being useful for someone new to the disease. I give it a 5 out of 10.