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Joyful Girl

Andrea Blythe's blog about writing, reading, and everything else


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Books Read in July
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blythe025
Despite the inexplicable cuteness of my newborn niece (I AM SO OBSESSED!!), which has taken up a significant about of my time, it's been a rather good reading month. :)

1. Fast, Cheap and Under Control: Lessons from the Greatest Low-Budget Movies of All Time, by John Gaspard
2. After the Apocalypse, by Maureen F. McHugh
3. The Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri
4. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
5. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
6. The Waking Moon (published on wattpad), by T.J. McGuinn
7. The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham
8. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (audio book), by Mary Roach
9. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin


REVIEWS:

1. Fast, Cheap and Under Control: Lessons from the Greatest Low-Budget Movies of All Time, by John Gaspard
I love film making, I love the process, and I love books that tell stories about the process. and books about film making and and filmmakers allows me to live vicariously through the creation process and learn about how it all comes together. Fast, Cheap and Under Control looks at the experiences behind some great low-budget movies to offer advice to potential future film makers, but the stores told are often entertaining enough to be of interest to non-film makers, too. One of the main lessons in this book is if you really want to make a movie, just get out there and do it. Persistence is the key to getting a movie made, not necessarily money. Though the chapters on each movie were short (and I kind of wished for more stories about some of them), I really enjoyed this glimpse into the process.


2. After the Apocalypse, by Maureen F. McHugh
In this collection of stories McHugh explores the ways life goes on after or in the face of catastrophes big and small. "The Naturalist" looks at the days of a criminal, who is banished to the zombie-infested outskirts of the world and expected to die—instead he becomes fascinated with the dead.

Set in China after a bird flu epidemic has killed thousands, "Special Economics" is about a woman who finds herself trapped within the economic system of a large corporation.

In "Useless Things" an artist, who creates true-to-life baby dolls, home has become a stopping point for immigrants and vagrants expecting a little kindness in the desert.

"Going to France" is the story of a migration of people who have literally learned to take flight, and a mother and her unwanted daughter make their way across the dilapidated landscape of the U.S. in collapse in "After the Apocalypse."

Those are just a few of the stories that stuck out most in my mind. McHugh touches on the human side of disaster, which comes to be in her stories, ultimately mundane. Life goes one, hearts get broken, we close ourselves off, or open up to new possibilities. I enjoyed each of these stories in turn, with "The Lost Boy: A Reporter at Large" being the only one I didn't quite connect with. A fantastic collection of stories, which I would recommend even if you don't often read science fiction or apocalypse stories.


3. The Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri's collection of stories explore the ways we either connect, or, more often than not, fail to connect to the people in our lives. Her stories are on the long side, more novellas or novlettes than short stories, which has given her space to more fully explore the daily space of the familial (and occasionally friend) relationships she is presenting. The stories are pondering, almost slow, and often melancholy, but each one is beautifully written.


4. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
A young boy has lived on his grandfather's tales of grand escapes from monsters and of the peculiar children who live in an orphanage on an island in Wales. Having believed his grandfather as a kid, he feels betrayed as he grows up to find the stories unbelievable and the photographs presented as evidence as most likely fake. But when a terrible tragedy occurs, he decides to journey to Wales to find out the truth.

This book, which is already very well written and quite captivating, is made all the more so by the insertion of strange and eerie photographs of kids doing apparently strange and eerie things. It allows a suspension of disbelieve that wouldn't be nearly as complete without them, especially as the photos are real, found photos that for the most part have not been doctored by the author. This was a lot of fun to read, and I sure hope there is a sequel.


5. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I remember being completely confounded by this book in high school. It was required reading, after all, about which we were forced to discuss the symbolism of the green dock light and the rain and many other things, all of which felt like work and was entirely uninteresting to me at the time. Not to mention that my reading interests were less focused on the poetry of language than the entertainment of the plot ([[Stephen King]] was a big hit with me at the time).

Reading it again now, I am struck with how profoundly beautiful this book is. The writing is clean, simple, and gorgeous, and while many of the characters in the book are not easily likeable, they are certainly fascinating. The Great Gatsby has now been added to my list of favorites.


6. The Waking Moon (published on wattpad), by T.J. McGuinn
Discussed elsewhere.


7. The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham
One of the reasons I enjoy reading post-apoc books is the aspect of how one survives in a world that has fallen apart. Triffids provided this and more. The book follows a John, a man fortunate to miss out on a great cosmic display of lights due to an injury and thus in one of the rare few who does not go blind. This is the primary disaster, which is quickly followed by the threat of the triffids, over-grown genetically modified walking (yes, you read that right, walking) plants cultivated for economic reasons. John wades through the disaster and meets various groups surviving in its wake along the way.

What makes this book more than just a story about the apocalypse is the philosophical bent throughout, as the characters not only survive, but choose how to shape their own survival in a way they can live with. How much should you sacrifice to save others, if you can? Is it better to focus on saving as many people as possible, or only the few who are truly valuable? How do you cultivate hope for the future when there seems to be none? What shape should a new formed society take after a disaster of such epic proportions? What myths do we tell the children who grow up after?

Though the triffids at first glance seem ridiculous, exaggerated, Wyndham puts just enough science into their back story to make them probable in society focused on economic gain, and though the date of the book means that some of the portrayals of women are a bit antiquated, Triffids overall is a fascinating and entertaining read.


8. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (audio book), by Mary Roach
Mary Roach takes a look at the on-the-ground research performed to simulate the realities and dangers of space. The greatest challenge by the space program was and continues to be manned flights with all the unique complications of keeping a human body functioning and safe. The research — the effects of zero-gravity on bone loss (via volunteers who lay in bed for weeks on end), the psychological issues in dealing with enclosed spaces (locking astronauts into enclosed chambers for weeks to months), nutrition (from sandwich cubes to free floating sandwich mishaps), the disposal of feces and urine (don't ask, but the term "fecal bag" was used), and more — she describes with both respect and humor, which she backs up with stories from those who have actually visited space.

While most of the book describes what has already taken place in the field, she notes that every step, beginning with sending up chimps or dong to first orbit to landing on the moon, is all leading the one more step in space exploration — the next big leap being a manned mission to mars.

Mary Roach loves the strange underbellies of science, the less glamorous aspects no one tends to talk about. Like her, rather than being repulsed by the knowledge of astronaut nausea or fecal bags or the absence of bathing in zero-g or any of the other repulsive things they have to endure, I find that I have more and more respect for those who venture into space and push the boundaries of what is possible.


9. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
A married woman has an awakening of spirit after falling in love with a young man on a vacation by the seaside, which leads her to new social and spiritual freedoms. It's interesting that despite her husband's insistence that his wife must be ill to behave this way, many of her friends and allies (and some strangers/acquaintances) remain true and support her. Told with sparse prose, this story is considered a strong feminist tale, and considering the period in which it was written, it certainly is. Though it's old fashioned by today's standards, it's still a beautiful, touching story.
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