I have officially hit peak summer reading, the time of the year when I burn through books like newspaper in a fireplace. I read 13 books this month with an average rating of 3.7 stars. I had two five-star reads and only two books that ranked below three stars. It was a very good month.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. Complimentary copies of some of the books mentioned below were provided by the publishers.
If you like giant alien robots, this book is for you. Sleeping Giants is about, well, a giant alien robot and the top-secret government team assembled to figure out what it does and how it works. The book is written as a series of interviews conducted by a mysterious unidentified Smoking Man type with various members of the team and other relevant parties. This unique format lends itself to fast-paced reading and a certain air of mystique, but it is not particularly good for building a sense of personal connection to the characters. I enjoyed it and I will likely read the second book in the series since the publisher sent me a copy, but I suspect that by the time the third book in the series is released, I will apathetic enough to pass on it.
This is the story of Wavy, the young daughter of a drug dealer and his addict wife, and her relationship with Kellan, a hulking but soft-spoken associate of her father’s who provides Wavy with a sense of safety and stability in the midst of her chaotic and sometimes violent home life. The book spans a period of about thirteen years and tracks the evolution of Wavy and Kellan’s relationship through the eyes of multiple narrators. This book is highly controversial and with good reason. It explores a taboo and morally charged topic in a way that many will no doubt find objectionable. Nevertheless, I found it to be heartfelt and beautifully written, and I think it fully deserved its 2016 Goodreads Choice Award nomination and Book of the Month Club Book of the Year prize.
Born a Crime is Trevor Noah’s memoir of growing up biracial in South Africa under apartheid, when interracial relationships like that of his parents were outlawed. His memories are poignant, funny, and heart-wrenching in equal measure. The real star of this book is Noah’s mother, an inspiring, larger-than-life character who fearlessly marches to the beat of her own drum, facing down robbers, racism, and a violent, gun-wielding husband with poise and defiant fortitude. By far the best way to enjoy this memoir is by listening to the audiobook, read by the author. He does a magnificent job of bringing South Africa to life for readers who have never had to opportunity to go there.
This slim little volume distills the Enneagram into its simplest form with short, highly structured outlines of each of the nine types and a guide to self-typing. I’ve always been a little wary of “simple” introductions to the Enneagram. It’s a complicated typing system and it wasn’t until I read the long and dense Personality Types by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson that I was finally able to accurately identify my type. Still, this is the best of the short introductory books I’ve seen and I think you will find it useful, whether you’ve identified your type yet or not.
This book attempts to document the historical and mythological roots of misogyny in the ancient world and track their enduring influence all the way up to modern times. I think this book could be more accurately called A Brief History of Western Misogyny, since it primarily documents the sources of misogyny in ancient Rome, Greece, and the Judeo-Christian tradition, only briefly touching on Eastern and Middle Eastern cultures. I won’t criticize it for not comprehensive enough since it only claims to be a brief history. Nevertheless, I do wish it were longer and provided more commentary on ancient non-Western cultures. Regardless, it’s a must-read for your feminist syllabus and surprisingly digestible in audiobook format.
The Enneagram has many parts that make it one of the most useful–but also one of the most complicated–personality typing systems out there. Most books cover the nine core types and the wings and some books mention Tritypes in passing. This book focuses on the three instinctual subtypes–social, sexual, and self-preservation. At nearly five hundred pages, it’s extremely comprehensive and highly structured for ease of reference. My one complaint is that there seems to be a lot of overlap between the subtypes. This lack of distinction can make it difficult to ascertain your type if you don’t know it already. There is, however, an extremely useful appendix in the back to help with this problem.13 Short Reviews of the Books I Read in July 2017Click To Tweet
This is the story of an African American family who packs up their lives and moves from Boston to the Toneybee Institute in a nearly all-white community in the Berkshires to participate in a study that will involve them living with and teaching sign language to a chimpanzee named Charlie. As the story progresses it becomes clear that the Toneybee Institute has a dark history of racism that elicits different responses from each of the Freemans. The premise checks all my boxes but I just couldn’t sink my teeth into this one. It’s subtle and strange and has a distinct gothic flavor to it, which normally I might like but here it threw me off kilter. It just wasn’t for me.
The Wicked Boy tells the true story of Robert Coombes, who, in 1895, at the tender age of thirteen, stabbed his mother to death while she lay in her bed. He then, along with his little brother, Nattie, concealed her death while living in their home with the decomposing corpse for nearly two weeks. This shocking case of matricide becomes even more puzzling when you consider that Robert eventually went on to become a productive and upstanding member of society. He served with distinction in the first world war and eventually became the supportive guardian of a boy from a violent home. Summerscale tries to suss out what drove young Robert to murder and how he eventually exorcized his demons. Unfortunately, it seems like she didn’t have a lot of material to work with. As a result, her conclusions are half-baked and she frequently goes down unnecessary rabbit trails for pages at a time. It’s a fascinating case but the book is mediocre.
In Underground Airlines, Ben Winters imagines what the world might be like if the Civil War had never happened and slavery were still in practice today. In his alternate universe, slavery is still legal in four Southern states–the Hard Four. A man calling himself Victor is a former slave who escaped to the North as a young man, only to be captured and given an impossible choice by the U.S. Marshall’s Service: work to capture other runaway slaves and maintain some semblance of freedom or be sent back to the dairy plantation he came from. Victor’s latest case is not like the others and it could put his fragile pseudo-freedom in jeopardy. I think the story and its main character are compelling but I’m not overly impressed with the book as a whole.
This book chronicles the still-unsolved case of the Monster of Florence–a serial killer who targeted copulating couples parked in moonlit groves in the picturesque Florentine hills during the 1980s. What makes this particular true crime drama unique is that the authors of the book were accused of obstructing the investigation–and one was even imprisoned under suspicion that he might have something to do with the gruesome crimes. The case is complex and engrossing from start to finish and it’s as much an indictment of the Italian justice system as it is a mystery for the ages.
Last year I listened to The Road to Little Dribbling and A Walk in the Woods, both of which I adored, so this year I decided to continue my Bill Bryson world tour with this travelogue of Australia. As I have come to expect from Bryson, his style here is witty and informative, with lots of interesting trivia and amusing anecdotes that reveal his trademark curmudgeonly sense of humor. Unfortunately, I have to dock points for narration. Bryson should not be allowed to read his own work. The Road to Little Dribbling and, to a lesser extent, A Walk in the Woods benefited from excellent professional narration. Bryson’s voice, on the other hand, is so sleepy that it actually put me to sleep at points, despite the truly fascinating subject matter. If you decide to read this one, pick up the paperback or ebook version instead.
Behind Closed Doors is a thriller about a woman whose marriage appears perfect on the outside but hides a dark secret. I decided to read it after B.A. Paris came to my attention last month with The Breakdown, which I devoured. The Breakdown is a blend of equal parts mystery and thriller, whereas Behind Closed Doors is more thriller than mystery. I was a little disappointed about that since I’m more of a mystery person. Don’t get me wrong–it’s a real nail-biter. It just isn’t quite as suited to my tastes as The Breakdown. But definitely read it if you need a good scare and/or want to be put off marriage forever.
In this book, popular blogger Anne Bogel of ModernMrsDarcy.com introduces readers to the concept of using personality frameworks for self-development. The book provides brief, easy-to-understand introductions to the introvert/extrovert dichotomy, highly sensitive people, the Five Love Languages, Myers-Briggs–including the cognitive functions and Keirsey’stemperaments, the Enneagram, and StrengthsFinder. It’s a great place to start if you want to learn more about personality but feel overwhelmed by all the typing systems out there.
Tell me about the books you read in July in the comments below!