Year 16, Book 13

13. Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

A collection of 80 essays spanning the 400 year history of African America written in a chronological timeline with each essayist touching on a 5 year time period. The book is further broken into 40 year time periods with each section ending in a poem. The time periods are a jumping off point for each essayist to talk about an issue, a person, a historical event, or an idea. The book is not just a straightforward history book. Editor Ibram X. Kendi calls it a choir of voices and that is the perfect description. They are all singing something slightly different but creating a beautiful song.

I actually found the layout of the book to create a very profound reading experience. With each essay covering a 5 year time period and being roughly of equal length it really created a sense of time that you don’t necessarily get when you just hear dates. I realized how far I had into the book before we even got to the official establishment of the country, then the Civil War, and finally how few essays I had to read from the Civil War or the Civil Rights Era to get to today.

There were a lot of historical things that I had never heard about before especially from the 1600s. There were also a lot of really beautifully written personal essays. I can’t stop thinking about the essay by Ijeoma Oluo on skin color. If I had been highlighting this book as I was reading it probably 95% of it would be highlighted.

It’s an absolutely incredible work and should be required reading for everyone. I give it a 10 out of 10.

Year 16, Book 12

12. Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan

In 1973 Ireland, teenager Moll Gladney disappears. She returns five years later with no explanation of where she had been or why she left until the some of things she was involved in while she was gone catch up with her. I really enjoyed the beginning and the end of this book, but there were some points in the middle that didn’t keep my attention as well. It is a beautifully written book even if I wasn’t super into some of the things the author was writing about at certain points in the book. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 16, Book 11

11. Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

A mysterious cafe in Tokyo offers its guests a chance to travel back in time, but they are limited to only being in the same seat in the cafe, they can’t change anything about the present, and they have to return before their cup of coffee gets cold. This book is four interconnected stories of people who choose to travel back in time.

I’m not sure if it was because the book was translated into English from Japanese or just the author’s writing style but I found it very stilted. It felt like a lot of very literal telling of what the characters were saying and doing like this person did this and then this person said this without a lot of description. There was also a lot of repetition of the rules of the time travel in the first two chapters. I got a little bit more into the stories so the writing style bothered me a little less as I went along, but I’m still not inspired to read the sequel. We did have a good discussion about the book in one of my books clubs though. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 16, Book 10

10. Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork by Reeves Wiedeman

The author started writing this book after conducting research for an article in New York Magazine. I wish I would have just read the article instead. It’s not that the book was bad because it wasn’t. It was interesting, but also the first 80% was just basically saying the same thing over and over again with the details slightly different. The general point being that Adam Neumann had a magnetic personality that convinced people to invest in ideas that were mostly a lot of smoke and mirrors while also generally doing super douchey things along with his wife. I didn’t feel like I gained much about the general story from knowing every tiny detail. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 16, Book 9

9. Hell of a Book by Jason Mott

It’s hard to describe what this book is about. I will refer you to the book description. I found it to be a compelling and profound book on race and police violence that is written in a magical and fantastical way such that you never quite know what is happening in a way that emphasizes the neverending cycle of stories that sound the same. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 16, Book 8

8. Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire L. Evans

I wanted to like this book more than I did. I just couldn’t find much to get invested in. Every time I put it down I had to convince myself to pick it back up again. While the book moves through time from the earliest days of computers through the 80s it’s not one cohesive story but more like a series of related essays, which made it so there wasn’t anything spurring me on to the next section. I was most interested in the first section of the book. After that I felt like the author was stretching to find things that women did that were super relevant to the advent of the internet. Mostly reading it just made me want to go rewatch the fictional, but much more interesting, Halt and Catch Fire. I give it a 5 out of 10.