The Spy (Paulo Coelho)

Hello all…It’s been so long!

This final semester kicked my butt. I managed to read just two books in January/early February (which I did not review but would 100% recommend as they were both excellent – A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf and Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin) before having to turn all my attention to schoolwork. BUT I just moved into a new apartment, where my stack of to-be-read books is nicely organized, and a new library card has been secured so I am back with a vengeance! The current plan is still to read 26 books within the year; right now, that means I’ll need to read about 3 books a month, which is a pace I’ve done before, so I think we can make it happen.

TitleThe Spy

Author – Paulo Coelho

Page count – 186

Year Published – 2016

Recommendation – I want to read this one again to know for sure how I feel about it. My initial impression was that it’s an intriguing story (based on real events, which is pretty cool) that makes you think about narrative (un)reliability. From whose perspective a story is being told can greatly change what we hear and what we are encouraged to believe is true.

**CW for the book: suicide, rape/sexual assault, a firing squad scene**

This book is based on the true story of Mata Hari, a famous exotic dancer who was (wrongly?) accused of being a spy for Germany during World War I. The book opens with her final moments of life. The rest is a series of letters, mostly from Mata’s perspective, recounting her life and the events that led to her being accused of espionage.

While “innocent” isn’t necessarily the first word that comes to mind to describe Mata Hari, the “crimes” for which she was actually tried in the court of public opinion – and which were used to justify her espionage accusation – were her hunger for power and fame, and use of sex to manipulate men into providing for her lavish lifestyle. People love a beautiful woman for entertainment, but she crosses a line once she asserts her own desires and fails to pretend she’s ashamed of her sexuality.

The following is a snippet from Mata’s lawyer, to Mata Hari, addressing this:

“[I wrote] a book telling the injustice of which you were victim for the sin of being a woman, for the greater sin of being free, for the immense sin of stripping in public, for the dangerous sin of getting involved with men whose reputation needed to be maintained at any cost.” (p. 168)

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Second Nature (Michael Pollan)

Well, friends, the year is almost done. How are you doing on your own Reading Challenges? There’s still about three weeks left, and I would need to read six books in that time to meet my goal. Two per week is totally feasible, right?? If I really buckled down, I could make it work, but we’ll just have to see. 🙂

Title/Year Published – Second Nature: A gardener’s education (1991)

Author – Michael Pollan

Page count – 258

Rating – Buy/Borrow/Bypass + Goodreads 4/5

(I don’t know that I need to read this book again, but it’s definitely one I’m passing along to several gardening/horticulture/landscaper friends. And I can’t wait to get my hands on some of the books and authors he recommends/references.)

I hadn’t realized this when I got the book, but I’ve already read another by this author called The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Like I said in that review, it was a book that made me think about things in a philosophical way that I hadn’t considered before. Whereas Omnivore applied to anyone who, ya know, eats food, this book is really more of interest to those who do any type of horticultural work – whether you are a farmer, manage the landscape of a large estate, or just keep a couple pots of flowers on your front step. Continue reading “Second Nature (Michael Pollan)”

Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins (Miguel A. De La Torre)

If your Christian theology leads you to a Gospel that is not “Good News” to all – including, and especially, people who live on the margins of society – then it’s not the Gospel.

Title (Year Published) – Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins (2004)

Author – Miguel A. De La Torre

Page count – 264

Rating – Buy/Borrow/Bypass + Goodreads 4/5

Hoo boy. This book got me all riled up. For the last few years – although the last 10 months have amplified things – I’ve been constantly going back and forth between 1) devouring the books/words/testimonies of liberation theologians and valuing the good the Christian Gospel can do when it is enacted in people’s lives in healing, sustaining, life-giving ways, and 2) being consumed by anger at people who claim Christianity yet act in ways and perpetuate systems that oppress the very people the Gospel is supposed to be Good News for – the poor, the sick, the hungry, the homeless. Christians seem to think they can say a prayer and forget that we’re supposed to act, to actually be the hands, feet, and mouth of Jesus. Continue reading “Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins (Miguel A. De La Torre)”

Spinster (Kate Bolick)

I’m so happy I finally got my hands on this book! My one criticism is that, at times, the pace slowed down just a bit too much. Otherwise, I found this to be a fascinating examination of several interesting literary women and a balm to my happily-single heart.

Title/Year – Spinster: Making a life of one’s own (2015)

Author – Kate Bolick

Page count – 297

Rating – Buy/Borrow/Bypass + Goodreads 4/5 (Really Liked It)

This book is technically a memoir because Bolick weaves in her own relationship experiences as a single woman. But she focuses heavily on the histories of five literary pioneers she holds as role models for her own life – the essayist Maeve Brennan, the columnist Neith Boyce, the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, the novelist Edith Wharton, and the social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Continue reading “Spinster (Kate Bolick)”

Small Victories (Anne Lamott)

I’ll be honest…I’m not super excited about this book I just finished. But I don’t want this whole post to be bland so I’m going to start you off with a suggestion to go check out a podcast I’ve been loving. As you know from my bio line under the title of this blog (or if you’ve read my older reviews), I am a big Harry Potter fan. Not a super fan, per se, but I’ve read the books countless times and hold movie marathons of the series almost as much as ABC Family. If you, too, like Harry Potter and would enjoy hearing two Canadian academics talk about the books/movies/associated events, then go check out Witch, Please. Politics, intersectional feminism, and whimsical sound effects abound!

Anyway…here’s my actual review of this in-no-way-related-to-Harry-Potter book 🙂

Title/Year – Small Victories: Spotting improbable moments of grace (2014)

Author – Anne Lamott

Page count – 286

Rating – Buy/Borrow/Bypass + Goodreads 3/5 (Liked It) Continue reading “Small Victories (Anne Lamott)”

A Million Little Pieces (James Frey)

It’s hard to place this book in one particular category. Is it a memoir? Is it fiction or non-fiction? It’s marketed as a true account of Frey’s time in rehab, but there is some dispute about whether all events are completely accurate. While I do think there should be some sort of disclaimer about “artistic liberties” or exaggeration, I also think that anyone who reads a memoir and believes that everything is 100% real with no stretching the truth to make the story more interesting from a marketing perspective…is fooling themselves.

I also believe that stories don’t have to be true to teach us something. Fiction has just as much power to take us to another world and empathize with people/characters whose experiences differ from our own. And that’s what this book did for me.

Title – A Million Little Pieces

Author – James Frey

Page count – 430

Rating – Borrow (I put this at a 4/5 “Really Liked It” on Goodreads, and I would recommend it…but I don’t know that I can read it again.)

(Big ol’ CW/TW on this story for: addiction, alcohol, drugs, rape, abuse) Continue reading “A Million Little Pieces (James Frey)”

Nobody Knows My Name (James Baldwin)

No, I didn’t finish this book in just one day! I was reading this alongside my last two books and happened to finish it at about the same time as Shrill. So you get two reviews in two days…Lucky you 🙂

Title – Nobody Knows My Name

Author – James Baldwin

Page count – 190

Rating* – Borrow

(*Rating system taken from Book Riot’s “Buy/Borrow/Bypass” tag)

This book is actually a collection of essays. Baldwin did write several novels, but he is perhaps even more well-known as an essayist. I picked up a few of his books after watching the Raoul Peck documentary I Am Not Your Negro (based on one of Baldwin’s unfinished manuscripts) and watching a few videos of speeches he gave (like this one – CW: the n-word). There’s something about his cadence when he speaks that keeps me enraptured. Continue reading “Nobody Knows My Name (James Baldwin)”