Nonfiction Mini Reviews

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bad Feminist 
by Roxane Gay 

I might be the last person to read this collection of essays but I got to say, all the reviews I read about it did not make it sound appealing. I got the impression that it was a head-shaking, staring-down-your-nose-at-someone book about what we were all doing wrong as feminist. I was so far off! Now that’s not to say that the book is all humorous. Gay tackles some incredibly tough issues. She talks about racism in pop culture, birth control, gang rape, etc., but she does so in a very accessible way. 

The author’s essays cover everything from her love of Sweet Valley High books to her scrabble tournament skills. She's funny and witty and she is brutally honest about herself. This is not a book about what everyone else is doing wrong as a feminist. It's a book about her, what she likes and doesn't like and the issues she feels passionate about. I really enjoyed it. 

BOTTOM LINE: A wonderful collection of essays! I’m looking forward to trying her novel “An Untamed State” though I’ve heard it’s much darker.

Five Days in London, May 1940 
by John Lukacs 

The title pretty much tells you what you’re getting with this one. Lukacs drilled into a short time frame after Winston Churchill became prime minister and some of his cabinet members wanted avoid war with Hitler at all costs. The subject matter is interesting, but his writing style is a bit stale. It feels a lot like he’s defending his dissertation instead of just writing a book. He keeps circling back on a point and explaining why he made it, which was distracting. The actually history was interesting, but the writing style didn’t work for me. 

He would cite a letter or speech word-for-word as if he’s trying to prove that the point he was making was based on fact. If I’m reading nonfiction books on a historical event I tend to trust that the author has done their research. There’s also usually a biography full of the cited works at the end of the book that people can check if they want to. 

BOTTOM LINE: I won’t be searching out any more work by this author, but I enjoyed learning more about this short window in history. It was interesting to see how much can hinge upon what seems like a small decision.  

The Ghost Map 
The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World 
by Steven Johnson 


Johnson tells the story of the massive Cholera outbreak in England in the 1850s. He traces its impact on society and the lasting impacts that still resonate today. He discusses the contaminated water sources that caused so many problems and made frequent reference to Dickens novels that were written around the same time. 

One point the author made that I did find fascinating was his conclusion about modern day society’s alcohol tolerance. He says our population went through a “genetic bottleneck” and many of us are descended from people who can tolerate alcohol, because those are the people who survived the bad plague outbreaks in Europe. Native Americans and Aborigines’ descendants in Australia on the other hand were never forced to go through that form of survival and tend to have a higher tendency towards alcoholism. It’s something I never considered, but it’s an interesting conclusion. 

BOTTOM LINE: The book is impeccably well researched, but not too readable. It had a hard time keeping my attention. Skip it unless disease outbreak, medical research, etc. are of particular interest to you.


thecuecard said...

Gosh I wasn't sure I heard good things about the Roxane Gay book but now you got me rethinking about reading it. Thanks for the review. We doesn't want to be a feminist?

Anonymous said...

Re Ghost Map: That genetic bottleneck tidbit is very interesting. I think I've heard that term before, but not in relation to alcohol. Sounds like the history would be fascinating to learn. Too bad the author seemingly didn't hold up his end.

Re Bad Feminist: "Even though I'm a guy" I've been wanting to read this for awhile too, since I've been impressed with the other work of hers that I've read. (I did read An Untamed State, which was unpleasant as far as subject matter, but well written). I also follow Roxane Gay on twitter, where her wit makes her a good follow, but I feel a lot of her commentary is missing a "critical thinking filter" and too predictably following a political line. You probably have heard she's a professor at Purdue University now, so we can count her as an Indiana writer. :-)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

thecuecard - I had written it off for some reason and I'm glad I reconsidered.

bibliophilica - She's a Purdue professor?!? I didn't know that! And I think it's awesome you want to read it. It definitely shouldn't be a book for just women!