If you missed part 1 of my reading wrap-up, click here.
It’s time for more books! We’ll jump right into it.
I remember hearing oodles of rave reviews for We Were Liars by E. Lockhart when it came out a few years ago. I’m not sure why I waited so long, but I was in the mood for a really quick and easy read, so I finally dusted off my copy, settled myself on my bed, and read it in one sitting. No spoilers here, but I have to say I was kind of disappointed and that I have conflicting feelings about it. There were a few things that I thought were problematic and that bothered me enough to interfere with my experience reading the book. Minor adjustments could have been made that I think would have fixed those problems. And I’m not talking about plot holes or anything like that; I’m talking about the way certain characteristics or experiences were romanticized, as well as poor character development. That’s what I found problematic. Despite that, the writing was excellent. This is the second book I’ve read by E. Lockhart and this is how I feel about her: she has incredible potential but it’s like her swings keep missing. (Either that or we just don’t get on very well.) I still want to keep track of her work, though, because I feel like when she lands one, it will be phenomenal.
Next up, I read Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance. I saw this book crop up on so many lists at the end of last year, particularly in light of the results of the ahem election ahem and I was extremely curious. After visiting southern Virginia and noticing some…interesting things, it felt like an appropriate time to read it. I listened to the audiobook quite quickly, as it’s a pretty short book. I’m really glad I read it. I struggle to articulate exactly what I learned and how it made me feel, but it is definitely eye-opening, and I think that is its main value. It made me feel like I took a huge step in understanding what life is like for so many Americans whose experience is vastly different from my own – experiences that are so often ignored or silenced in “mainstream” American media. It is without a doubt an important piece of nonfiction. (If you’re interested in giving it a try, please note that its language is most definitely not G-rated.)
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari was another one I’d heard great things about, so I decided to give it a go. It was a fascinating read, although I definitely took issue with a number of things Harari says. He quite clearly views religion the way most of would view, say, monsters under the bed: an eyeroll-worthy fiction. At the same time, he will describe an occurrence or development and admit there is no scientific or biological explanation for it. One primary example of this is what he calls the cognitive revolution, where human brains evolved dramatically and became capable of more complex ideas and speech, and capable of creating shared stories. It was a great read, but I felt Harari was more than a little condescending. Perhaps most problematic of all, he completely fails to take into account this important lesson that millions of children (and adults) learned from Harry Potter: “Of course it is all happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” He completely fails to recognize truth and reality in what we may call “fictions.” He uses money as an example, calling it the most successful and widespread “fiction” we have invented. And he is right to a large extent. Money in and of itself has no value. It holds value only because we say it does and we believe it does, and our neighbors believe it, too. And he’s right. But that doesn’t change the fact that you can take your $10 bill, or your piece of plastic down to a store and come back with food for the day. You can call money “imagined” until you’re blue in the face, but you’ll still need it just as much as your neighbor. I found his condescending bias more than a little grating.
I never had a mythology unit in school. I’ve picked up some information over the years, but always felt my knowledge was quite lacking in this particular area. After reading Phillis Wheatley’s poetry collection, this gap became even more clear and I decided to at least attempt to rectify that. I decided to start with Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Now, this isn’t the kind of book I think most people would want to sit down and read through, but it was still fairly enjoyable. It definitely held my attention more at the beginning and kind of dwindled towards the end. I suppose it’s a fairly good place to start if you’re looking to build up your Greek/Roman mythology base. The main problem with it, however, was its organization, which made little sense. There were stories that were referenced that were not actually shared until later in the book, and some important myths were placed behind less important myths, etc. Overall, though, it was fairly successful. I definitely could not rattle off a bunch of names and stories, but it gave me a better understand of the feel of Greek/Roman mythology and helped me become more familiar with the stories, even if I don’t have them memorized.