66. An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz
Alex Kotlowitz sets out to chronicle the effect of violence in Chicago over the course of one summer talking to both victims and perpetrators of violence. As with his earlier book There Are No Children Here he really embeds himself in the community to get a full picture of what leads to the horrendous amount of violence plaguing certain parts of the city.
There Are No Children Here is one of the first sort of sociological books of this ilk that I can remember reading and really set off my interest in this area of study, so I was super excited to read this book. It did not disappoint. Kotlowitz again provides a heartbreaking and honest look at how systems and people have let whole groups of people down leading to what seems like the senseless violence plaguing parts of Chicago. He very much sticks to talking about Chicago, but as someone who lives in Baltimore everything he talked about could have been taking place here and I’m sure in many other cities across America. I give it a 9 out of 10.
65. You are Not Your Thoughts: The Secret Magic of Mindfulness by Frances Trussell
I didn’t get a whole lot out of this particular book on mindfulness. That is probably partly my own fault. I really just read it straight through like it was a novel or something. Really it should probably be read in short chunks with time to put into practice what the author is talking about. I’m probably not likely to go back and reread it to do that though. I give it a 5 out of 10.
64. Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
This book is aimed at middle-grade children and revolves around six kids who are put together for a weekly chat to be able to open up and share their deepest fears with each other from the fear of one’s family being deported, racial profiling, parental imprisonment, and changing family fortunes. I get what Woodson is trying to do with this book but it felt super heavy handed to me. Maybe some kids will read this book and identify with one of the characters and know they are not alone, which would be great but to me it felt like reading an after school special. I give it a 5 out of 10.
63. My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love by Dessa
Rapper Dessa shares stories from her life and the road in this series of memoirish essays. Interwoven throughout is her attempts to let go of a love that she knows isn’t healthy for her, but which she can’t seem to walk away from. Dessa is a wonderfully lyrical writer. The way she puts together is a sentence is gorgeous. I would recommend reading this book for the way it is written if nothing else. I give it a 9 out of 10.
62. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
Tara Westover recounts her experiences growing up in rural Idaho as the youngest daughter of a Mormon extremist, survivalist father. Her father did not trust the government and kept his children out of school and didn’t allow them to see doctors relying only on treatment that could be provided by her herbalist/midwife mother. The only education she received as a child was being taught to read and then trying to learn on her own and receiving some instruction from her older brother. Despite these unlikely beginnings Tara manages to earn a PhD from Cambridge. She shares how difficult it was to break free from the mental and physical abuse of her family and how lost she felt without the common education received by the people around her once she left home for college.
This was a really interesting memoir that looks at the power of family and education and what they can mean to us individually and as a society at large. It seems like the author took great care to tell her story as accurately as possible. She kept journals throughout her life that she used to write the story and often indicates when her memories and those of other family members don’t agree. I give it a 9 out of 10.
61. One Small Thing by Erin Watt
Beth’s sister died in a car accident three years ago and now her parents practically keep her under lock and key to keep her safe. Now in her senior year of high school she’s starting to rebel against them and all their rules including sneaking out to a party where she meets Chase. Then she discovers that things from his past mean they can never be together.
I mostly liked this book. I thought the characters were realistic for the most part. I was kind of annoyed by the whole she lost her virginity to a stranger and now they’re basically in love after one night of it all, but I get why the author had to do that for the rest of the plot to hang together. I would have liked to see them develop their relationship more gradually before figuring out that they were star crossed lovers of sorts. I give it a 7 out of 10.
60. Orbiting Bodies by Diana Jean
Caleb and Andrew are freshmen roommates in college who befriend upperclassmen Piper and Jun in their first weeks of school. Caleb is hyper and extroverted and can’t settle down while Andrew is emo and focused on his art career. Jun is hugely introverted and anti-social and Caleb becomes obsessed with drawing him out of his shell and realizing he may want to be more than just Jun’s friend. Piper is worried about what will happen to her and her girlfriend after they graduate especially in the face of her parent’s opposition to their relationship. The story is told from the points of view all four of these characters both in the past and present. I really enjoyed this book and the friendships among the characters. I think the author wrote Caleb and his hyperactivity really well. I was exhausted dealing with that character but only because he was so realistically drawn and I would be equally tired of having to deal with that kind of personality in my own life if I had to. I give it an 8 out of 10.
59. Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich
The farther I got into this book the less I felt like I knew what it was really supposed to be about. The title suggests issues with us overtreating ourselves, which the book does go into, but then it really digresses into a whole lot of things that don’t seem to back up any sort of thesis. Basically I viewed it as old woman yells at clouds as she realizes she’s mortal and her time on this earth is most likely drawing to an end. I give it a 4 out of 10.
58. The Baltimore Book of the Dead by Marion Winik
Winik provides short little snapshots of the lives of the dead. They’re sort of like very focused obituaries. Most of the people in the book are people she knows who have died, but there are also some more well-known people though they are never named. You just know who they are from the details included in their stories. It’s a very beautifully written book that meaningfully encapsulates people’s lives giving you a picture of who they were in just a few details about them. I give it an 8 out of 10.
57. The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery by Barbara K. Lipska
Lipska a neuroscientist herself was diagnosed with brain cancer that resulted in her experiencing many symptoms of mental illness that she could not in her diseased state recognize in herself. After an experimental treatment she managed to make a full recovery and begin to analyze her own brain and behavior during the time of her cancer. This was a so-so read. I didn’t find the author’s story overly compelling. I give it a 5 out of 10.