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Old 12-04-2012, 03:30 PM   #7
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I read a mix of maybe 60% fiction and 40% non-fiction. Here is five of what I liked best and five of what I liked worst.

The best:

Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory by Cherstin Lyon

I was familiar in broad terms with the internment of Americans of Japanese descent who happened to live on the west coast of the US during WWII. This book informed me about a lot that I did not know though. Like that not only were resident aliens and naturalize citizens interred, but also those born and raised here, basically citizens at birth. All of this with no evidence of their having committed any crime or having in any way been disloyal. The book also started out by painting a good picture of the racism behind that all, dating back to the Asian Exclusion laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I also did not know that Japanese men of draft age were, while being arbitrarily denied basic rights as citizens, still subject to the draft, and subject to jail sentences for refusing to be inducted under the circumstances. Not a proud moment in American history.

The Half-Finished Heaven by Tomas Tranströmer

A collection of poems by Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. I had never heard of him until he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011. The award was well deserved in my opinion.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

My second Murakami book, my first being Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman a collection of short stories. The plot concerns the entanglement of the lives of a youth seeking his long missing mother and sister, a now old man who still suffers from a strange experience as a child during WWII Japan, and a women who has a past that she wishes to hide. Though to really call that the plot is an injustice as the reference to Kafka in the title is appropriate.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

A well told tale of two twins, born orphans in late 20th Century Ethiopia to an Indian mother and a British father. Adopted and raised by Indian doctors at a charity hospital in Ethiopia it is both a history of that country during that period and a touching personal tale of the personal lives of the characters.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'Connor

A collection of short stories by O'Connor. Well written, terrifying, and at the same time realistic.

The worst:

The Conquering Family (The Plantagenets #1) by Thomas B. Costain

First this book did not provide what it said it would. The kings starting with William I (The Conquer) up to Richard I (The Lion Heart) were not discussed at all. Since a history of the kings that were omitted, especially those after William the I and before Richard I, were what I was most interested in this was a big strike against the book. That and for a non-fiction account that was what I hoped for the author devoted far to much time on romantic speculation about personalities and motivations

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

So I only read this because it was the selection as book of the month for a book club at my local library. Probably Patchett is just not my cup of tea. I found most of the characters so unrealistic as I did much of the story line. Now fantasy novels are fine, but a fantasy novel that expects to be taken seriously is just not something I can enjoy.

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.

Another local library book club selection. The first strike against it was deception in the book title and description. Supposedly the book as about Caleb Cheeshahteaumauck a Wampanoag native American, an actual historical figure who became the first native American to attend Harvard University in the latter half of the 17th Century. That would have been good material for a book. In fact Caleb is a peripheral character, as the book is really about a Bethia a young woman of European decent in whose voice the story is told, and the more appropriate title might have been Bethia's Liberation. Which brings me to the second major problem I had with this book. Bethia is as much of an anachronism for the story's time and place as would have been an IPad had she been able to bring that with her when she made her Quantum Leap from the 21st Century back to 17th Century Massachusetts.

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoğlu, James Robinson

The author does a nice job of examining why certain nations today have achieved a high degree of prosperity while others remain in poverty. The trouble is his thesis is that the difference is due to one and only one factor and in making his argument dismisses other important factors that likely have played a role, often in a glib fashion and making false equivalencies. For example his dismissal of the arguments made by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel as to why Europe in the 2nd Millennium was able to dominate the world. Or his treating the English colonies in Africa where the English just formed an upper ruling class intent on exploiting the colony and its indigenous population for the benefit of England as equivalent the English colonies in North America where the the aim was to eliminate the indigenous population and essentially form an expansion of England. The other problem is that since the author was supporting only one argument the book at 546 pages was far to long as after a few chapters it became repetitive.

A Happy Boy by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

So this was a book read on the way to my goal of reading at least one book by every winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. What can I say. This was one of the earliest (pre-WWI) awards, and obviously the breadth of literature considered broadened considerably after the war. This book was selected because it was the only one I could obtain in English. Honestly while it was described in wonderful terms in the biography of Bjørnson I felt like I was reading a story written for children.
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