My goal this year is to read a little every day and/or read 30 books. After not reading anything for the last month because of everything else going on in life, I’ve fallen off my pace and am currently at 15 books read in 2016. I just started a new one a few days ago though, and it feels good to be reading again! Standard disclaimer: there may be spoilers, in case any of these are still on your “to read” list. Also: previous reads.
Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt
I work at Johnson Space Center in Houston and this book is really about the Jet Propulsion Lab in California, but I was still intrigued. I was already familiar with the idea of “computers” — women who worked for the agency early on who literally did all the math to support the various projects and programs — and it was very interesting to learn more about a group of them. I also really enjoyed learning about the history of JPL. Unfortunately I think this book could have used a stronger editor. It felt very disjointed, jumping from anecdote to anecdote instead of stringing together a more cohesive narrative. I had trouble keeping the women straight, and the timeline jumped around a lot as well — 5 years forward, then 8 years back, all within the same few pages.
Still, it was a worthwhile read for the history and for appreciating how tough it was for women to break into the engineering/space exploration field early on. (And geez, how tough it must have been given the complete lack of maternity leave policies and readily available childcare!!) These women paved the way for women like me to work as engineers, and that’s pretty cool.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
I’ve read a lot of novels set during World War II, but that didn’t stop me from picking this one up and I’m glad I did. This was an engaging story about two sisters — one older and married with a child and one just entering adulthood when the war begins — and how they each respond to circumstances beyond their control. I identified strongly with Vianne, the older one, who was torn between trying to keep her head down to avoid trouble and protect her daughter while also trying to maintain her humanity. Be warned that you will probably spend a good portion of the last several chapters in tears.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
This was a book club selection and it was fascinating (and horrifying) to learn more about events that I am mostly oblivious to from my comfortable life in the US. Apparently there is some controversy surrounding this book and whether the events occurred exactly as described and on the timeline presented. Either way, it seems safe to say that whether Beah was forced into being a boy solider for 2 months or 2 years, the experience would be terrifying. From my very outside perspective, the book would have benefited from better context — some additional background on conflict, or how things devolved to the point where Beah’s story begins. But overall I felt this was a worthwhile read.
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
The premise of this book is how our culture handles death, and how we could improve. Sure, it’s morbid, depressing, and often uncomfortable — but it’s also something that each and every person should probably spend a little time thinking about long before you find yourself facing the end of your own life. I really appreciated Gawande’s thoughtful approach as both a doctor and a son dealing with his father’s tumor diagnosis and subsequent decline. I’ve been fortunate thus far in that I haven’t had any close friends or family members with terminal diagnoses (other than old age) so I don’t have a lot of experience with the subjects. That said, this book presents a very convincing argument for new types of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and makes a strong case for hospice care over the more traditional hospital stay. The idea of providing needed help while also letting people stay in control of their own lives for as long as possible is something I’m 100% onboard with and hope to have in my own life when my time comes.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
I’d seen this book mentioned in so many different places and was anxiously awaiting it via postal book club. It finally arrived and I sped through it in about 8 days! It wasn’t amazing, it wasn’t earth-shattering, and I found the non-stop back-and-forth between the two points of view fairly excessive at times. But despite those negatives, I really enjoyed this one. Something about Rowell’s writing felt very real to me — I totally bought in to the feelings of teenagers in love, the interactions they have with the (very different) parents in their lives, their home lives, the bus ride to and from school, etc. A satisfying story from start to finish.