What I read this week: February 21-28

A big part of my reading this last week was a complete re-read of Evicted by Matthew Desmond.  I didn't mean to re-read the whole book.  I was really just planning on going over a few bits to help me finish a review.  But the book is incredible and deserved another go.  I really can't recommend that book enough.  If you are at all interested in public policy, social justice, poverty, race issues, etc you should read it.  If you are a human person, you should read it.  On the surface it doesn't seem like it would be super applicable to my life in a very rural community, since it has to do with housing issues in urban areas, but I think there are a lot of things that apply to life in the sticks.  I wrote about it for Englewood Review of Books and I'll share a link to that when it goes up.    

I did read a few other things.  So, here goes.

  • Dietland by Sarai Walker.  This book is just weird.  I can't say that I liked it and I can't say that I didn't like it.  Dietland features a fat protagonist named Plum Kettle.  Plum spends her whole life waiting to be skinny so that her real life can begin.  Because she lives in shame about who she is, she wears clothes that she doesn't like, she does a job that she hates, she eats food that is tasteless.  But she believes this will all change when she is finally skinny and becomes a real person.  Through a series of strange events, she is connected with a group of women who live on their own terms and she learns to accept herself  as she is. 

The premise of the book is great.  I liked the idea that we've all been brainwashed into believing certain unattainable body types are attractive and anything outside of that ideal is to be hated.  I also thought some of the lines the author drew between pornography/disordered sexuality and advertising/disordered body image were interesting.  The problem is, I really did not like the main character.  It's hard to get on board with these revolutionary ideas when the main character is someone you don't want to be and wouldn't want to hang out with.  Anyway, the idea of the book was interesting, I just didn't love the execution.

  • Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos.  I picked this up because I really enjoyed the author's previous novels, Broken for You and Sing Them Home.  This novel was lacking, for me.  I tend to be a very linear person.  If an author can keep control of a narrative that doesn't follow a standard timeline or that jumps between perspectives, it can be really great.  I didn't feel like Kallos did that.  Not my favorite book of the year.  You can probably skip it.

 

  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari.  I actually listened to this one and laughed way more than you might expect when you pick up a work of social science research.   I guess that's the first thing you should know about this book.  Aziz Ansari (comedian) wrote this book with Eric Klinenberg (NYU sociologist).  The book uses loads of data on relationships and dating to completely convince me that I'm glad I got married when I did.  Okay, I'm sure that wasn't the point of this book but it definitely was one of the results!  They outline the way things have changed: it used to be that people regularly married someone who lived in the same building/neighborhood/few blocks as they did.  It was often someone they were introduced to through family connections and usually the marriages happened in the early 20s.  Today, people are marrying much later and rarely marry people that grew up in the same place they did.  Aziz Ansari claims this means people are more romantically fulfilled than they were in the past but I wonder what to make of rising rates of divorce, etc.  It would be interesting to take another look at the data and see what could be made of that.  Anyway, good book.  I'm guessing you'd like it.

 

  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.  My sister loaned me this book because she likes to make me cry.  Unless you live under a rock, you've heard of this book and it's not a spoiler if I tell you that Paul Kalanithi died last March.  This book is a meditation on life and death and love and marriage.  It is gorgeous and should be read by everyone.  I also particularly enjoyed the last bit, which was written by his wife after he died.  I liked her thoughts on marriage at the end of life.  It is a really excellent book.

 

That's it for next week.  Right now I'm reading The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee, Night Driving by Addie Zierman and Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy.  I'll tell you all about them next week!