ABR’s #CBR5 Review #23: Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

12yearsThis book doesn’t need much introduction. It is the memoir that has gained renewed attention since the release of the film by the same name. The memoir was written in the 1850s by Solomon Northup who, although he was a free man living in the North, was kidnapped and sold into slavery. He remained a slave for 12 years until he was able to convince a white abolitionist to help him contact his family and secure his freedom.

I have not seen the movie, but I would highly recommend the book. It is beautifully written, poetic in places, horrifying in others. It is much more than a historical narrative, it is the story of a loved and loving man who remains hopeful and spiritual in the harshest of situations.

As you’d expect, it is educational, but it is also inspirational. Some passages are so lyrical, they read like a psalm.

The book really deserves a more thoughtful and robust review, but no matter how elaborate the review, it would come down to the same recommendation: Just read it.

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Caitlin’s #CBR5 #61: Bubble World by Carol Snow

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This is an interesting book about a girl who lives on an island utopia…except it’s not what it seems. It ends up being some sort of junior matrix situation, where teenagers who have difficulty in the real world are hooked up to computers and live virtual lives. I wasn’t expecting that at all when I started the book, and it ended up being much more interesting than I thought it would be.

You can read my full review here.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #69: “The Artful Edit” by Susan Bell

The Artful EditI’ve had The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself (2007) by Susan Bell on my to-read list ever since I decided to try NaNoWriMo about seven months ago. I can’t remember how I originally found The Artful Edit, but I quickly decided to postpone reading it until after I had actually written something to edit. And that’s how I came to be reading it in December.

Susan Bell taught a New York’s New School graduate writing class in self-editing, and I think the idea for the book came from that class. Bell separates the book into five separate chapters: one about stepping away from your work to gain perspective; one focused on macro-editing; the next on micro-editing; a “master class” delving into editing for different artists (i.e. photography); and finally a brief history on editing and how it’s changed throughout the years. Although this book was more school learnin’ than entertainment, I found it generally interesting and helpful. The chapters end with a quick summation of the suggestions discussed in the chapter, and I think I’ll keep those for further reference. The last chapter dragged, and was more challenging to push through, although Bell still managed to relate it back to our own works.

Unlike No Plot? No Problem!, which got me started on the whole NaNoWriMo adventure, The Artful Edit is a little more intimidating. Instead of encouraging laypeople that anyone can do it, Bell dissects great literary texts and quotes and discusses countless famous authors (only some of whom I actually knew). I definitely got the sense that this book was for “real” writers. Part of me felt desperately out of my league. However, Bell also had a number of famous authors describe their own editing processes, which turned out to be quite varied. Not only was this fascinating, but it was freeing to see that what works depends on who you are and how you work.

One of the main teaching elements of The Artful Edit was the use of The Great Gatsby. Bell liberally used quotes from earlier versions with comparisons to the final draft, as well as some enlightening correspondence between Fitzgerald and his editor to illustrate various aspects of writing and editing. The examples were helpful as illustrations, but it was also fascinating to see the building of something so famous. I’m certainly not looking to write a great classic: an understandable story that I let some of my friends read would count as a major accomplishment, but it was inspiring to see how much difference editing can make in a text. I haven’t even looked at my first draft since the end of November, but reading this book has me excited to get back into it.

To see more of my reviews, visit my blog here.

reginadelmar’s #CBR5 review #52 In Defense of Food: An Eaters’ Manifesto by Michael Pollan

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I am a fan of Michael Pollan, having read several of his books and heard him speak when he’s in town. I hadn’t read In Defense of Food because I heard him interviewed and attended a lecture right around the time the book was published. At the lecture he brought a shopping bag full of things he’d picked up at a grocery store: green tea infused sodas, yogurt with fiber added, and numerous other manufactured foods. His point was that in the United States we practice “nutritionalism” focusing on particular nutrients rather than whole foods, and eating manufactured foods in the process. This is the theme of the book.  Pollan goes through a history of food science, a description of what we are eating today, and his suggestions for a better way of eating.

The phenomenon of nutritionalism was named in the late 20th century, but has been in practice since the 19th century. Currently the popular “bad” nutrient is the carbohydrate. Athe end of the 20th century it was fat, in the 19th and early 20th century, John Kellogg and others extolled the harm of animal proteins. In general, our food research seeks to isolate certain nutrients and determine their harmful or beneficial effects. This isn’t all bad, science has discovered vitamins and other minerals in food and determined they were necessary. The problem is that this form of reductionism also creates over simplifications in our approach to food. Continue reading

Mrs Smith Reads The Unwinding An Inner History of the New America by George Packer, #CBR5, Review 24

The Unwinding

I finished The Unwinding too late to include it on my Best of 2013 Reads list, but if I could, I would totally move it to first place. Everyone should read this book. George Packer has put a human face on the economic collapse of the US over the last four decades, and what he describes is not pretty.

The Unwinding is not a non-fiction economic treatise on bad political and corporate malfeasance used to describe our current inequalities, instead, Packer tells stories. These stories come from North Carolina (my home state), Ohio and Florida. Packer gives us history writ small, detailing the lives of lower middle class and poor individuals struggling to be successful and make a good life for themselves and their families as corporations and our politicians make it harder and harder for anyone but the most wealthy to enjoy anything approaching success.

Mrs Smith Reads The Unwinding by George Packer

reginadelmar’s #CBR5 review #40 Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson

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This may have been my favorite book of 2013.  Prior to reading this book, everything I knew about  T.E. Lawrence came from David Lean’s film, Lawrence of Arabia which I like a lot. The real story is even better and more interesting than the film.

From the outset Anderson admits that Lawrence is a difficult character to know, there is so much mythology about him, both negative and positive. Lawrence himself contributed to the confusion through his own writings that are inconsistent and contradict other eyewitness accounts.  Anderson has worked through a lot of source material, often providing the reader with differing accounts of the same event, sharing his conclusions, but allowing the reader to draw her own.

The book begins prior to WWI introducing Lawrence at a young age.  His family was reclusive due to his parents’ scandalous romance.  As the book moves into the Middle East, it follows three other men who were contemporaries of Lawrence who were operating in the Middle East.  Curt Prüfer was a German national and spy who was trying to incite jihad against the British.  Aaron Aaronsohn was a Jewish agronomist and Zionist, a spy and a critical figure in the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Anderson also tells the story of an American, William Yale, who worked for Standard Oil.  His story is much smaller than the others, but also reflects the outsider role the United States played through much of World War I.

Continue reading