July Reads

  Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

I recently joined a book club, and Unbroken was the first book that we selected to read.  It definitely lived up to the hype.  Not only did everyone in the book club finish it (Holly crammed the whole thing in over a weekend), but everyone loved it.  It is an amazing survival story of a man who lived a life of complete extremes, experiencing the highs of being an Olympic athlete as well as some lows that seem like melodramatic fiction in their frequency and severity.  There are many parts of this story that will stay with you, but what sticks with you most is the overpowering sense of hope.  It’s the kind of story that can give you an entirely new way of looking at your own life.  Now, when faced with adversity, I silently remind myself “at least I haven’t had to punch any sharks today.”

An American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham

To be totally honest, I struggle with biographies.  Although I am very interested in people and I love history, there are few people that I find interesting enough to care about every detail of their lives.  Due to this (not to mention the contrast in tone and tale between this and Unbroken), I struggled with this book.  It was very interesting to get an unbiased look at the controversial presidency of the man who was arguably the second biggest dick to be President of the United States.  However, the majority of the book seemed like frivolous information, focusing on the petty squabbling between Jackson’s cabinet members and entourage.  Since I absolutely hate to give up on a book, I forced myself to plow through all of it, but I definitely found it to be a bit of a snoozer.

  *We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

As I just mentioned, I hate to give up on books.  No matter how bad a book is, I almost always stubbornly push through to its completion.  So why the asterisk at the front of this title, you ask?  Simple: I gave up on this book at the half way point, and I haven’t regretted it for a second.  Since I did not actually finish it, I won’t pretend to write a fair review of the novel.  I’m sure there is some big plot twist and the end, and it’s very possible that something amazing happens to make it seem almost worth the time spent reading it.  The truth of the matter is that the secret to the meaning of life could be scribbled on the last page, and I would never find out, because there is no way I am going to push myself through the last 200 pages.  It was boring, painfully contrived, and the writing felt like it was penned by smug pre-teen with a dictionary on her knee.

  In One Person by John Irving

I will read anything that John Irving writes.  He has a unique way of making his novels both intimate and epic.  His quirky, yet loveable characters play center stage while he leaps over the barrier of reality and believability.  In One Person, which tells the story of a bisexual man coming of age during the sixties in Vermont, is no different.  While seeming to center on the narrator’s life through the various decades, the true story lies in the peripheral characters and the backdrop of the time periods.  Focusing on sexuality and gender identity, this is by far the most political novel I’ve ever read by Irving, though I never at any point felt like the story itself was compromised by an agenda.  I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone.

  Gold by Chris Cleave

With the London Games going on, what better time is there for a book about Olympic athletes?  In Gold, Cleave focuses on the negative side of the games, exploring the selfishness and narcissism that it takes to drop everything else in your life and focus all of your energy into perfecting one physical act.  Though I really enjoyed this book, I don’t think it was quite on par with his previous two novels (Incendiary and Little Bee).  On a good note, this one was also much less dark than its predecessors.  I definitely recommend reading this book but, if you are new to Chris Cleave, I would start with Little Bee; it is beautiful and haunting.

  Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest For Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball by R. A. Dickey and Wayne Coffey

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not big on biographies.  I especially don’t like autobiographies by athletes or celebrities.  Being famous is not a quality that necessarily makes people more interesting to me.  That being said, I really enjoyed this book.  Touching (pun intended, yet entirely inappropriate) on topics such as his sexual abuse and his own failures as a husband and a father, Dickey tells a story much larger than the average baseball player.  His honesty and self-awareness is really what makes this such a fascinating read.  It is a great story of resilience and determination to reach your dreams.  He may not play for the Giants, but I will root for any man who hits his athletic peak at thirty-eight years old (basically because it means I still have a shot at the Bigs if I start working on my knuckleball).

  Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner

If you had told me ten years ago that I would be voluntarily reading a book about economics, I would have called you crazy.  However, the Steves make me wish I had signed up for more Econ classes in college (or any, for that matter).  They view the world in such an interesting way, using the eyes and the theories of an economist to cast a new light on everyday topics in society.  Their podcast is one of only two that I listen to on a regular basis (the other being Stuff You Missed in History Class, which is AWESOME!).  Even if you hated Econ class in high school, you’ll probably still enjoy reading this book.  If you’re skeptical, download their free podcast from iTunes and see what you think.


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